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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.

2017
December
06
Wednesday

“This reality might not have to be our reality anymore.”

That was the revelation of one of the “Silence Breakers.” Those are the women and men being recognized today as TIME magazine’s “Person of the Year” for speaking up and demanding action on sexual harassment.

What happens when the fearful grip of entrenched behavior and beliefs is broken? You get a glimpse from the video that features the dishwashers and academics and actresses who are TIME’s honorees. It’s in the words they choose: honor, pride. It’s in the recognition that “we don’t have to live like this.” It’s in the validation of being heard and believed. As Jessica Cantlon, an academic, said: Before this moment, “if they couldn’t stop us from talking [about the harassment], they were going to stop everyone from listening to us.”

This moment of reckoning makes some people nervous. As TIME notes, “while anger can start a revolution … it can't negotiate the more delicate dance steps needed for true social change.”  But it also makes many people hopeful for the progress that can benefit both women and men in the workplace. As actor Terry Crews, who was sexually assaulted himself, told TIME magazine: “You are teaching people how to treat you.”

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And a note about yesterday's delivery. An automated tech process briefly failed, causing Monday's Daily to be sent out in error instead of Tuesday's. We apologize for the disruption, and are glad to report that the problem has been fixed.

Now to our five stories, showing the importance of integrity, persistence, and compassion in addressing local and global challenges.

1. Jerusalem: Symbolism, substance, and questions about America's regional role

President Trump sees himself as a powerful disruptor who can break through ossified positions. His formal recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel will put that role to a high-stakes test.

Amelia
With an Israeli flag flying in the foreground and western Jerusalem in the background, the Old City compound known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as the Temple Mount is seen.
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Ammar Awad/Reuters
 

The 30 Sec. ReadFor Middle East diplomacy, Dec. 6 may be remembered as a day of falling fictions. For the White House, President Trump’s decision was an acknowledgment of what for all practical purposes has been true since Israel was created in 1948 – that Jerusalem is the functioning capital of Israel, housing the three governing branches and most ministries and agencies. Yet for Palestinians, Arabs, and many Muslims, the day may be remembered as the day another international fiction was laid to rest. Indeed for some regional analysts, Mr. Trump’s move strikes a blow to the role the United States has sought to play for at least five decades: as the neutral power and “honest broker” in efforts to bring the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to a diplomatic settlement. Daniel Levy, president of the US/Middle East Project, a nonpartisan think tank promoting an equitable Middle East peace accord, says: “If you’re a Palestinian trying to cling to the notion of an American-led peace process that delivers statehood, this move shrinks further the already very small ice cap you’ve been standing on.”

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1. Jerusalem: Symbolism, substance, and questions about America's regional role

As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump pledged – to the roaring approval of evangelical Christians and some pro-Israel donors – to buck longstanding policy and quickly move the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem if he became president.

He also asserted that, as the consummate deal artist, he would succeed where other US presidents had failed – in crafting the “ultimate deal” to end the Middle East conflict through a peace accord between Israelis and Palestinians.

President Trump made partial good on the embassy pledge with his announcement Wednesday recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and directing the State Department to begin the process of moving America’s diplomatic headquarters there.

But at the same time, he may have put further off – if not scuttled altogether – prospects for the “ultimate deal” that would finally resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict.

By recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital rather than leaving the city’s status to be decided as part of a final-status settlement between Israelis and Palestinians, Mr. Trump could be plunging a dagger in Palestinian dreams of establishing disputed East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.

In a brief White House statement, Trump said it was time for “fresh thinking” and to “reject the same failed approaches” in the long US effort to bring a lasting peace to the Middle East. The president said his actions should not be construed as a position on the “final status” and boundaries of Jerusalem or a departure from the US effort “to facilitate a lasting peace agreement.”

But the actions were viewed in sharply differing ways in the region and around the world.

Trump’s decision was hailed by Israeli leaders, who said there would be national celebrations marking the momentous day. But Palestinian leaders declared “three days of rage” to express their rejection of the move, while Arab and European leaders lined up in opposition to the unilateral US action that runs contrary to international diplomatic efforts to reach a peace accord.

Muslim and Arab leaders, including Jordan’s King Abdullah, warned of a damaging backlash, while Saudi Arabia, which has coordinated closely with the White House on a new regional peace push, warned that the step would “provoke the sentiments of Muslims throughout the world in light of the great importance and the pivotal status of Jerusalem.”

Indeed Trump, who relishes the image of being a “disruptor,” is bucking decades of US policy in a manner that many diplomats, analysts – and key US allies – say could work against other US priorities in the Middle East. Those include defeating Islamist extremism and Muslim radicalization, and countering an anti-American Iran’s rising influence across the region.

“This is not the first time that Trump has had two objectives and taken action that put those objectives in tension,” says Bruce Jentleson, a former State Department Middle East adviser who is now a foreign policy scholar at Duke University in Durham, N.C. “Recognizing Jerusalem [as Israel’s capital] follows an intensified pattern lately of appealing to what [Trump] sees as his base,” he says, “but it is incredibly counterproductive in terms of these other objectives he claims.”

'Day of falling fictions'

For Middle East diplomacy, Dec. 6 may be remembered as a day of falling fictions.

For the White House, the president’s decision was the United States finally acknowledging what for all practical purposes has been true since shortly after Israel was created in 1948 – that Jerusalem is the functioning capital, housing the three governing branches and most ministries and agencies.

Trump’s decision “is recognition of reality – the historic reality and modern reality – that Jerusalem is and has been the seat of Israel’s government” since the Jewish state was formed, says a senior White House aide. The president remains committed to “achieving a lasting peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians,” the official adds, while recognizing that the conflict “will not be solved by ignoring the simple truth that Jerusalem … is the capital.”

White House officials insist that Trump is acting on the US public’s will as expressed through Congress. But even though Congress passed a law in 1995 calling for the US Embassy to move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, every president since then has routinely signed a national-security waiver every six months putting off the move in recognition of Jerusalem’s status as an issue to be decided only as part of a final peace accord.

Yet even some analysts who support the principle of an embassy move say the decision ignores another “reality,” that of the Middle East.

“In a logical world, it wouldn’t be a big deal to move the embassy, particularly if it moves to West Jerusalem,” says James Phillips, a Middle East expert at the Heritage Foundation in Washington. “In a logical world, this wouldn’t have to be viewed as a zero-sum decision,” he says. “However, this is the Middle East.”

The president is trying to “mitigate the risks of his decision by making it clear this does not prejudge the outcome of a final settlement” and does not “alter the status of the Jerusalem holy sites administered by Jordan,” Dr. Phillips says. But he adds that the holy city is “so laden with symbolic importance that there is likely to be significant blowback from moving the embassy.”

Among other things, Phillips says he fully expects Iran to jump on the US action as a means of firing up anti-American sentiments in the region. “This hands Iran a useful stick for hitting the US and moderate Arab states that Iran deems to be insufficiently hostile toward Israel.”

Shift in US role

Yet if the White House is dispensing with one fiction with the Jerusalem action, for Palestinians, Arabs, and many Muslims, Wednesday may be remembered as the day another international fiction was laid to rest.

Indeed for some regional analysts, Trump’s move strikes a blow to the role the US has sought to play for at least five decades as the neutral power and “honest broker” in efforts to bring the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to a diplomatic settlement.

“The reality is that America has not really been an enabler of peace for a long time because it has so consistently put its thumb on the scale of one party,” says Daniel Levy, president of the US/Middle East Project, a nonpartisan think tank promoting an equitable Middle East peace accord. “If you’re a Palestinian trying to cling to the notion of an American-led peace process that delivers statehood, this move shrinks further the already very small ice cap you’ve been standing on.”

Even a normally cautious Saudi Arabia appeared to acknowledge the shift in Washington’s “honest broker” status, stating the Jerusalem action would “constitute a fundamental change and an unwarranted shift in the United States’ impartial position at a time when the world looks to the United States of America to work on achieving the desired progress in the peace process.”

Mr. Levy says that if any good is to come from Trump’s action, it may be in clarifying the US role and prompting the Palestinians to put their focus and hopes elsewhere.

“I think there is an ‘elsewhere’ for the Palestinians, and that is to turn to themselves first and end their internal divisions,” he says. “At that point they would be in a position to cajole a wide range of international leaders to stand more firmly with them.”

Some regional analysts see Trump acting to “shock” the seemingly interminable Israeli-Palestinian conflict with some provocative moves ahead of an anticipated White House peace push early next year. But not everyone sees the provocative approach leading toward peace.

“In a complex and multi-layered conflict like this, I don’t see how ‘Let’s be disruptive!’ makes a lot of sense if your goal really is to fairly resolve the differences between these two parties,” says Dr. Jentleson at Duke. “I’m also not convinced they really want a peace deal, because if they were serious about it, they would not be leaving this to a real estate lawyer and a son-in-law,” he adds, referring to special envoy Jason Greenblatt and White House counselor Jared Kushner.

What worries others is that Trump’s experiment in Middle East disruption could end up costing the US for years to come.

“Violence very well could break out tomorrow over this,” Levy says, “but I think the more critical measure by which to judge this will be the long-term national security repercussions. This is not just another misguided settlement expansion. This time it’s Jerusalem,” he adds, “so you just don’t know when and for how long this might blow back against you.”

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2. With ban of Russia, broad questions on Olympics and integrity

At their most fundamental level, the Olympics were designed to speak to character. At stake in Russia's ban from the 2018 Games is whether that focus can be restored amid nationalistic competition and corruption.

Amelia
 

The 30 Sec. ReadHow does the Olympic movement heal a rift with one of its superstars and restore integrity to sport? Russia has been given the ultimate Olympic red card, forced to sit out the 2018 Winter Games just four years after sweeping the medals count in Sochi. Though individual athletes cleared of doping suspicions will be allowed to compete, they will do so without Russian uniforms, flags, or anthems. But the fight against doping does not end here. And, in fact, the use of performance-enhancing drugs may be symptomatic of the broader degradation of Olympic ideals. “The Olympic Games are supposed to be a celebration of Olympism, like Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Christ. And so clearly Christmas has lost its way … and the Olympic Games have lost their way. They, too, have become a corporate enterprise,” says Ian Culpan, a professor at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. “[Sport] has lost its educative and social value at the elite level.”

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2. With ban of Russia, broad questions on Olympics and integrity

Russia has been given the ultimate Olympic red card, forced to sit out the 2018 Winter Games. The humiliating punishment comes just four years after their athletes won more medals than any other country in Sochi – a feat aided by systematic Russian doping and manipulation of drug-testing samples.

The fact that the lumbering International Olympic Committee finally decided to take action has been hailed in the West as a gutsy if overdue move, and a coming-of-age moment for the global anti-doping movement.

Russians, however, see it as part of the West’s longstanding war on their culture, history, and sport. “They are always trying to put us down in everything,” wrote Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova in a Facebook post, adding it to a long list of grievances including “world war, the collapse of the Soviet Union and sanctions.”  

The question now is: How does the Olympic movement heal this rift with one of its superstars and restore integrity to sport? Scholars say the key lies in returning to its foundational ethical principles, including “mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity, and fair play.” Though the use of performance-enhancing drugs appears to remain widespread and a threat to fair play, that may be more a symptom of the broader degradation of Olympic ideals rather than the chief plague.

“The Olympic Games are supposed to be a celebration of Olympism, like Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Christ. And so clearly Christmas has lost its way in the promotion of the birth of Christ – it’s become a corporate enterprise now. And clearly the Olympic Games have lost their way. They, too, have become a corporate enterprise,” says Ian Culpan, professor of physical education and Olympism education at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. “[Sport] has lost its educative and social value at the elite level.”

Resolving Russia

Pierre de Coubertin, the founding father of the modern Olympics, envisioned them not so much as a display case for the world’s greatest athletic achievement but an avenue for developing mankind’s character.

“The important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win, but to take part; the important thing in Life is not triumph, but the struggle; the essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well,” he said. “To spread these principles is to build up a strong and more valiant and, above all, more scrupulous and more generous humanity.”

But somewhere along the way, the Olympics became a stage for demonstrating national pride and prestige.

As host of the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia spent a record $51 billion and won more medals than the Russian or Soviet teams had ever won at a Winter Games. But they did so through a years-long doping program and a highly sophisticated cover-up operation, going so far as to pass athletes’ tainted urine samples through a secret hole in the wall of the Olympic drug-testing lab, and replace them with previously collected clean samples.   

“This was an unprecedented attack on the integrity of the Olympic Games and sport,” said IOC President Thomas Bach on Tuesday, announcing the suspension of the Russian Olympic Committee and top-level sports officials after a 17-month investigation, as well as a mechanism through which individual Russian athletes could still be cleared to compete. He expressed hope that those athletes could “set about building a bridge for the future [rather] than erecting a new wall between Russia and the Olympic movement.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin (r.) stands to declare the 2014 Winter Olympics open during the opening ceremony on Feb. 7, 2014, in Sochi, Russia.
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David Goldman/AP

In some ways, the exposing of the Russian doping scandal has been a distraction to the more persistent challenges in anti-doping, says Roger Pielke Jr., director of the Sports Governance Center within the Department of Athletics at the University of Colorado and author of “The Edge: The War Against Cheating and Corruption in the Cutthroat World of Elite Sports.”

As many as 30 to 50 percent of all elite athletes may have broken the rules, according to reports, far more than the 1 or 2 percent who have been sanctioned, he points out.

But the Russia scandal has made clear that it’s not only athletes who need to be held accountable, but also organizations that enforce the World Anti-Doping Code. Last month, the World Anti-Doping Agency introduced guidelines for such organizations, giving a clearer playbook for dealing with any such future violations.

“They’ve filled this governance gap,” says Professor Pielke. “Now the next question is – now that you have them, are you going to use them?”

A bigger problem?

Some have cast the Russian doping scandal in Soviet-era terms – especially since the FSB, Russia’s state security service formerly known as the KGB, was reportedly involved in the cover-up.

“It all gets mushed into this series of cold-war scripts,” says Robert Edelman, professor of Russian history and the history of sport at the University of California, San Diego. “I would argue that the Russia today is much different than the Russia of the communist period.”

The world is also different – and maybe that means the Olympic movement should change, he says.

“In a globalized age, one can imagine the nation-state being removed from the Olympics,” he says, suggesting other sports organizations or even universities could compete – not unlike the early days of the Games, when athletes represented their sporting clubs. “It’d still be the best against the best, but you wouldn’t have the jingoism and chauvinism that you sometimes have.”

At a time of crisis like this, Professor Culpan in New Zealand says it’s important to go back to the founding charter of the Olympic movement. That document reveals clearly a mission to build a peaceful and better world, not just by showcasing the world’s fittest athletes every two years, but by encouraging a way of life that celebrates individual striving and collective progress.

“I would say that the philosophy of Olympism is the IOC’s best kept secret,” Culpan says. “And the IOC don’t realize they’ve got this wonderful opportunity to really influence how the world can live their life.”

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3. The fight against rising CO2 seeds an array of plans for nurturing forests

Forests play a crucial role as the planet's air filters. An Australian biologist is modeling one relatively simple way to help them better fulfill that role.

Amelia
Australian biologist Andy Marshall identifies a plant in the Magombera Forest in southern Tanzania, where he is trying to save trees to help curb global warming.
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Daniel Grossman
 

The 30 Sec. ReadBiologist Andy Marshall is on a machete-swinging mission in the dense Magombera Forest of Tanzania. His method of stemming greenhouse gases: pruning excessive undergrowth that prevents forests from flourishing. It’s one of a slew of ideas – some painstakingly “manual,” other aided by tools such as drones – being worked on by scientists and researchers to help solve what could be the dominant environmental issue of the next 100 years. While most of the attention in curbing global warming focuses on lowering emissions, Mr. Marshall and others are trying to solve the problem from the other side – by preserving the “lungs of the Earth” that absorb and sequester harmful gases. (Forests alone soak up one-quarter of the torrent of CO2  that people pump into the air.) Some of the initiatives are more notional than forest-ready. But experts believe it will ultimately take an array of approaches to avert worsening superstorms and to keep rising seas from coursing through coastal cities from Miami to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

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3. The fight against rising CO2 seeds an array of plans for nurturing forests

Andy Marshall, a biologist, yanks on the steering wheel of a battered Nissan station wagon and swings it off a track in the Kilombero Valley of southern Tanzania. Rain from the night before has left hubcap-deep puddles across the road. Mr. Marshall downshifts, swerves onto a recently harvested field of sugar cane, and parks on the furrows. The Nissan shudders for an instant before going quiet.

The biologist – a researcher on the staffs of the University of the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia and the University of York in England – and three Tanzanian villagers slog a short distance through dirt clods and stubble toward a tall leafy wall of deep green: the Magombera Forest. Cradled at the base of the Udzungwa Mountains, the Magombera is one of the most biologically diverse habitats in Africa. Many large mammals, birds, and reptiles inhabit the emerald woods, including elephants, waterbucks, buffaloes, bush pigs, wart hogs, aardvarks, porcupines, and three monkey species. Marshall himself has discovered a new species of chameleon here: the Kinyongia magomberae. An unusual mixture of East African trees normally not found together shade the forest floor. The canopy towers 100 feet above the ground. 

Until recently, the Magombera carpeted about six square miles of mostly flat land in the valley. But in the past three decades, half of the forest plain has been cleared, primarily for farming. The jungle that remains has been seriously degraded – selectively logged for construction timber – leaving gaping holes in the high, green canopy. 

Parts of the Western Amazon rainforest in Brazil have suffered heavy deforestation in the past year as an economic crisis has contributed to illegal logging.
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Carl de Souza/AFP/Getty Images

Marshall wants to patch Magombera’s wounds. The unnatural holes in the forest’s fabric lessen the trees’ capacity to soak up and store carbon dioxide, the gas that’s warming the planet and turning the weather chaotic. Forest gaps also reduce the jungle’s suitability for some of its rare wildlife. If only he can cure this small woodland’s ills, Marshall says, his method might then revive millions more acres of unhealthy forest around the world – and perhaps make a significant contribution to slowing global warming. There’s “huge potential,” he says. He needs only one simple tool: a sharp machete.

Marshall’s method of stemming greenhouse gases – by pruning excessive undergrowth that prevents forests from flourishing  – is one of a slew of quixotic ideas being worked on by scientists and researchers around the world to help solve what could be the dominant issue of the next 100 years.

While most of the attention in curbing global warming focuses on lowering emissions, many people are trying to solve the problem from the other side – by preserving the “lungs of the Earth” that absorb and sequester harmful gases. Though some of the initiatives may be more notional than forest-ready, experts believe it will ultimately take a host of different approaches to avert worsening superstorms and to keep rising seas from coursing through coastal cities from Miami to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

Every year humans disgorge 36 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide – almost enough to fill up all of the Great Lakes – out of tailpipes and smokestacks. Fortunately, only about half of this planet-insulating gas stays in the atmosphere. Otherwise, Earth would be warming at an even faster rate. Ocean water and vegetation on land absorb the other half, in equal parts. Forests alone soak up one-quarter of the torrent of CO2 that people pump into the air. “We are talking about a free 25 percent emissions reduction,” says Scott Denning, a climate scientist at Colorado State University in Fort Collins. “It’s awesome.”

Preserving the health of forests is one of the best ways to slow global warming, says Professor Denning, especially in the band of productive tropical jungle that encircles the globe from the Amazon to Central Africa, through Southeast Asia and Indonesia. But humans are doing the opposite. They’re clearing these forests at a furious clip. In the thousands of years since humans discovered fire and invented agriculture and axes, people have chopped down, burned off, and cleared away a third of the woods that once carpeted the earth. The world has lost a forested area twice the size of the United States. After accelerating for centuries, the rate of forest loss has slowed slightly in recent decades. Still, every year loggers and farmers cut down a West Virginia-size area, almost all in tropical South America, Africa, and Asia.

In 2014, diplomats from 36 countries, including the US, many European nations, and Japan, signed the New York Declaration on Forests, an agreement intended to halt deforestation by 2030. They pledged to restore and reforest 865 million acres – an area larger than India – as well. That is a monumental logistical challenge. “2030 is only 12 years away,” says Stephen Elliott, a biologist at Thailand’s Chiang Mai University. Mr. Elliott, director of his university’s Forest Restoration Research Unit, is among the hundreds of scientists and policymakers around the world looking for ways to renew the vitality of land degraded by wholesale and selective logging, and protect the endangered woods that remain.

The Magombera Forest, one of the most biologically diverse habitats in Africa, lies at the base of the Udzungwa Mountains, shown here in the distance.
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Daniel Grossman

The world hears about advances in driverless car technology every day, and Elliott says the same autonomous navigation techniques might someday help to achieve the ambitious objectives of the New York Declaration. “I don’t think we can do an area the size of India by 2030 manually,” he says.

By “manually,” Elliott means how people restore forests today. He says that in Thailand, and in most other tropical countries, forest crews work with tools and apply techniques that would be familiar to their ancestors, “using Iron Age hoes and Stone Age baskets.” Sturdy farmworkers haul heavy hampers of nursery-raised saplings into clearings. They insert root balls into shallow holes cut through unyielding soil mats.

Such backbreaking work is expensive, even where labor is cheap. It’s slow, too. Farmers and ranchers already occupy the most accessible, easily worked parcels – flat areas near roads. Politically and economically, these plots are not open for reforestation. Roads don’t go where most of the available land is. Steep slopes, untamed rivers, and other obstacles also hinder access, multiplying the difficulty and expense. 

Reforestation is “the only agricultural and horticultural activity that hasn’t been automated,” Elliott says. In 2015, he set out to change that, with help from autonomous drones. He invited an interdisciplinary group of 80 scientists and engineers from around the world to meet up in northern Thailand where he studies reforestation methods. 

They bantered and brainstormed for four days about how drone squadrons might reconnoiter over restoration plots, pluck seed-laden fruit from treetops, shoot those seeds into the soil, and care for the seedlings that later emerged. Freewheeling discussions on how aerial robots could cut down fruit with mini chain saws, ferry this harvest in nets, and ward off rodents with urine-soaked cat litter, lived up to a conference slogan: “The craziest ideas are best.” “It was the best fun I’ve ever had,” says Elliott. 

Felipe Spina Avino, a conservationist with the World Wildlife Fund, uses a drone to map an area of rainforest in the Western Amazon region of Brazil.
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Carl de Souza/AFP/Getty Images

Many researchers are withholding judgment about the potential for drone restoration of forests, though. Robin Chazdon, a biologist at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, says Elliott’s idea for robotic weeding “raised my eyebrows a bit.” Professor Chazdon edited a 2016 paper in the journal Biotropica where Elliott laid out his ideas. “There are a lot of issues that remain to be worked out,” she says. Not the least of these is how to induce air-dropped seeds to germinate and how to repel seed-hungry herbivores.

Other ways to preserve the carbon sequestering ability of forests focus on preventing the trees from being cut down to begin with. This isn’t easy, either. Any attempt to silence chain saws and the thwack of axes must answer to a litany of powerful interests craving new land and fresh wood. Farmers want more acreage for crops. Ranchers want new pastures. Developers want lots to build on. And both timber companies and small-scale loggers want lumber. 

Farmers in the Hoima and northern Kibaale districts in western Uganda are clearing trees – mostly for subsistence farming and to sell wood for timber and fuel – faster than almost anywhere else on Earth. In 2011, Seema Jayachandran, an economics professor at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., began an unusual investigation: how to entice small landowners in Uganda into protecting land, not clearing it. 

With collaborators in the US, Belgium, and the Netherlands, Professor Jayachandran recruited 1,099 Ugandan families for a study of whether modest cash rewards could sway them. Her results, published last July in the journal Science, has attracted worldwide attention from forest restoration experts. 

In the past two decades, farmers in many countries have been offered such payments to refrain from clearing jungle. The idea has been tried in countries as far-flung as Vietnam and Costa Rica. 

Scientists disagree about how well these efforts work. One problem has been that even if land clearing slows down after payments, how can researchers be sure that the reimbursements, and not other factors, caused the change? Moreover, skeptics suggest that payment programs might simply shift cutting to other locations, with no net benefit.

Jayachandran’s experiment was novel. Unlike previous reimbursement programs for forest protection that had been studied, landowners were selected at random either to receive payments or not, creating two groups for comparison. Half of the landowners received about $12 per year for each acre they left alone. Through a local conservation group, the scientists spot-checked parcels. The research team also monitored forest cover with high-resolution satellite photos. 

Jayachandran started the experiment doubting that payments could substantially reduce tree cutting. So she was surprised when a research assistant emailed her a table with preliminary findings. “Wow, this program is having a big impact,” she thought. Later verification proved that the small payments had slowed cutting substantially. People who received no money cleared 9 percent of their land in two years of observation. People paid to leave their land untouched cleared only 4 percent. The program had reduced deforestation by more than 50 percent.

Australian biologist Andy Marshall discovered this new species of chameleon in the Magombera Forest in Tanzania.
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Andrew Marshall/WENN.com/Newscom

Moreover, the team showed that the program was an economical way to fight global warming. Trees owned by families who received the program’s cash rewards stored 250 tons per year more CO2 than woodlands owned by neighbors who had not chosen to receive the payments, at a cost of $105. The climate benefit could be ephemeral, unless payments continue. Still, Jayachandran has calculated that paying Ugandans to protect their land in perpetuity costs much less than putting up a solar panel or a windmill in the US with an equivalent CO2 reduction.

Alex Pfaff, an economics professor at Duke University in Durham, N.C., praises the Uganda study for proving that “there is potential” for reducing deforestation by paying landowners not to cut trees. But he doesn’t think that means the idea will succeed everywhere. He says payments work best where a lot of forest is being cut, but not at great profit (such as in hilly terrain), and where somebody carefully monitors compliance. Otherwise, he says, people who have no plans for clearing forest might get paid for doing nothing. Or, conversely, they might get paid and then chop down forest anyway.

Professor Pfaff studied one of the world’s longest-running attempts to protect tropical forests with cash rewards, Costa Rica’s Payment for Environmental Services program. Like several other experts who’ve examined Costa Rica, he found that two decades of payments – totaling tens of millions of dollars – have saved very little forest. The payments “didn’t do much.” Deforestation declined, he says, but for other reasons.

In the Tanzanian wild, Marshall wants forests to heal themselves, with only a little help from humans. He’s cutting skeins of lianas, a variety of vine with a woody stalk – the “kind that Tarzan swings on,” says Marshall.

A Yanayacu Indian swings on a vine hanging from a massive tree near Iquitos, Peru, in November 2009.
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Gordon Wiltsie/National Geographic/Getty Images/File

They are native to the Magombera woods and other degraded forests that Marshall hopes to help. They often proliferate after a logger makes a clearing – stymieing regrowth of some of the world’s most lush forests and preventing trees from playing their role as Earth’s burial ground for carbon.

Marshall notes that between one- and two-thirds of all tropical forest land on the planet has suffered some form of abuse. Careful tending of ailing patches could substantially boost tree productivity. He is determined to prove his case in the Magombera.

He steps from the sugar cane plantation where he parked, baking under a sulfurous sun, into the forest. In only a few paces, the air cools noticeably and the light dims. The scientist and three helpers form a single file as they tramp deeper into the woods. Marshall wears a pair of scuffed black boots. Dirt from weeks of fieldwork clings to his pants.

“Ants!” one of the villagers yells in Swahili. A column of driver ants marches across the path. The size of a rice grain, a driver ant can bite with powerful jaws. The team starts jogging, stomping the ground with each step to prevent the insects from clinging to their shoes.

Over the years, Marshall has learned to identify most of the 500 plants in Magombera by their fruit, leaves, and flowers. “Sniff this,” he says, scraping bark from a sapling. “It smells like raw carrots.” 

The four arrive at a red plastic triangle standing atop a stake in the soil. It marks a corner of one of Marshall’s 40 research plots. In a tennis-court-size clearing, a twisted sapling attracts his attention. It had grown  straight like a tree then doubled over vinelike back toward the ground. What is it?

Sometimes lianas look like trees. He snaps a pencil-thick branch in two. It’s a tree, Xylopia holtzii, he announces. Liana branches are stringy and don’t break cleanly.

The distinction between liana and tree is central to Marshall’s research on how to revive degraded jungle areas such as this opening in the woods. Locals probably cleared the trees decades ago. A thick mass of leaves growing on coiled liana stalks carpets the glade now. The green, living lid shades everything below, Marshall says, stalling forest regrowth. “You can ima­gine what a tree has to go through to break through that.”

Research elsewhere grounds Marshall’s project. Scientists have long known that vines slow forest growth. More recently, biologists have put numbers on how much more carbon vine-free forests contain.

Stefan Schnitzer, a biology professor at Marquette University in Milwaukee, says that lianas ascend into forest heights, freeloading on the scaffolding of carbon-storing tree trunks. The size of their crowns often far exceeds that of the trees themselves. A group of gluttonous guests who refuse to leave once they’ve arrived, lianas suffocate the trees that host them. But liana trunks, far less hefty than those of trees, store pitifully little CO2 , making forests webbed with the vines less efficient in hoarding the planet-warming gas.

Several years ago, Professor Schnitzer and five workers severed the trunks of every liana in 12 acres of a forest in Panama. Freed of shading and strangling vines, the trees bulked up. “It was stunning,” says Schnitzer. Three years into the experiment, the liana-free jungle was accumulating carbon in its trunks and leaves nearly twice as fast as nearby unpruned woods.

Marshall proposes putting such findings to practical – and, eventually, extensive – use. He recently published the results of his own pilot study in the Magombera Forest. He’d clipped lianas in an area of degraded jungle the size of a suburban front yard. The trees burgeoned. After five years the same land had stored eight times as much carbon as nearby control areas. Marshall says his initial results suggest that cutting lianas in a degraded forest is as effective for sequestering carbon as reforestation. And killing lianas costs 1/50th as much, he says.

Widespread liana removal awaits lar­ger-scale and longer-term trials. Schnitzer, whose research inspired Marshall, agrees that liana removal could help degraded forests store more carbon. But he fears unintended side effects of industrial-scale liana trimming. “You’re killing part of the community and you don’t know what the ramifications are,” he says.

On a walk through his research plots in Panama earlier this year, Schnitzer described an example. His colleague Steve Yanoviak, a biology professor at the University of Louisville in Kentucky, noticed that the population of one ant species increased after crews had cleared lianas. 

Professor Yanoviak speculates that anteaters, predators of this arboreal ant, can’t climb into canopies to raid the insects’ nests without lianas. Even bigger impacts on denizens of the woods might remain to be discovered. This is to say nothing of the logistics of dispatching machete-swinging forest workers into every square inch of the world’s jungles. As a result, Schnitzer argues that efforts at slowing deforestation make more sense than trimming woodlands like an arboreal hedge. 

Relaxing after a tiring day crawling through thickets, Marshall talks expansively about his hopes for someday thinning liana tangles far beyond the Magombera Forest. He is still smarting from an ant bite and a nasty thorn snag. Researchers often dodge degraded forests, he says, because they’re hotter and choked with undergrowth. “It’s an inhospitable place for us big humans.”

Marshall, like Schnitzer, is uneasy about the idea of widespread liana cutting. Yet he notes that no solution will be simple or without trade-offs. Replanting costs a lot. Entrenched interests resist controls on deforestation. 

Last June Marshall received a $900,000 grant from the Australian government to fund his large-scale trials. He’s now poised to turn his largest patch yet of viney jungle into a healthy forest again. “The potential carbon gain,” he says, “is colossal.” 

Reporting for this story was supported by the Frank B. Mazer Foundation and the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

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4. An Italian leader’s comeback hints at cultural mood and mores

Former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is surging back onto Italy's political stage. His return speaks to a public far more tolerant of risqué behavior than the rest of Europe – and deeply disappointed with their current political choices.

Amelia
 

The 30 Sec. ReadSilvio Berlusconi, the once and future prime minister of Italy? Despite his ouster from Italy’s highest office in 2011 and his ban from politics due to a tax fraud conviction two years later, Mr. Berlusconi could be on his way back to the top after assembling a winning coalition in Sicily. His return depends in part on repeating that formula in national elections in spring, as well as overturning the ban in the European Court of Human Rights. But it also is enabled by the paucity of other options. Italy’s left is ripped apart by internal feuding. The anti-establishment Five Star Movement has limited credibility and low-experience candidates. Moreover, while Berlusconi’s tawdry history of sex parties would be a major handicap in other countries in the post-Weinstein era, Italians don’t view him with that lens. Though the billionaire’s parties were scandalous, he was never accused of assault. “Berlusconi can be vulgar,” says John Hooper, a veteran observer of Italy, “but he’s not Weinstein.”

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4. An Italian leader’s comeback hints at cultural mood and mores

Just a few years ago, it seemed safe to assume that Silvio Berlusconi's political career was over.

The billionaire businessman was forced to resign as Italy's prime minister in 2011 over his management of the country's debt crisis and revelations of risqué parties involving actresses and models. Two years after that, he was banned from holding public office as a result of a tax fraud conviction. Meanwhile, Italian politics moved on under a center-left government and a rising, upstart Five Star populist movement.

But after forging a center-right coalition that swept to victory in regional elections in Sicily last month, today Mr. Berlusconi is back at the forefront of Italian politics – and even has a chance of becoming Italy’s leader again.

And while that speaks in part to the loyalty of the outspoken tycoon's supporters, it also highlights the mood of the Italian public, both in terms of their dissatisfaction with the political options in their country, and how Italy's mores differ from the rest of Europe – particularly about Berlusconi's salacious reputation.

Potential king, or at least kingmaker

The Sicilian vote was seen as a litmus test of how the country might swing in a national election due to be held in the spring. The coalition consisting of Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party, the anti-immigration Northern League, and a third right-wing party, Brothers of Italy, won 40 percent of the vote on the island.

The alliance now has its sights set firmly on the general election – and Berlusconi’s on the premier’s office. And his ban from politics is not deterring him.

He is appealing to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg to overturn the ruling, hiring a team of crack British lawyers to argue his case. At a hearing last month, Edward Fitzgerald, a high-profile London lawyer, argued that Berlusconi was the victim of an injustice because the law that banned him was applied retroactively on offenses that had occurred more than a decade earlier.

The Strasbourg court is expected to take months to hand down a judgment, meaning that its ruling, even if favorable to Berlusconi, could come after the election.

But whatever happens, he will pull political strings behind the scenes, acting as a powerful kingmaker if, as seems likely, the right fails to win an outright majority and has to do a deal with a rival party.

'He’s not Weinstein'

And while Berlusconi has launched his political comeback tainted by a history of “bunga bunga” sex parties that predated by several years the Harvey Weinstein scandal, Italians don’t quite draw parallels between Berlusconi's behavior and that of Mr. Weinstein.

Unlike the Hollywood producer, Berlusconi was never accused of sexual assault, let alone rape.

When Ambra Battilana Gutierrez, then a teenage beauty queen, was invited to a sex party in 2010, she was so shocked by what she saw that she asked to leave. Her request was granted and she was driven home. But when she encountered Weinstein in New York in his office in Manhattan five years later, she alleges that he groped her.

“Berlusconi can be vulgar,” says John Hooper, a veteran observer of Italy and the author of The Italians, a critically acclaimed study of the country’s society and politics, “but he’s not Weinstein. He’s never been accused of forcing himself on women.”

Berlusconi’s abiding popularity reflects the broader mores of Italian society, Mr. Hooper adds. “I think it tells us that attitudes in Italy are many years behind those in other countries in Europe and the US. Berlusconi has done things that in many countries would be enough to disqualify a person from political life forever.”

Frustration with politics

Berlusconi’s enduring appeal to some Italians also reflects the paucity of other options as the country prepares to vote.

Italy’s left is in utter disarray, ripped apart by internal feuding, with some factions in open revolt against its leader, former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. He was forced to resign last year after calling – and losing – a referendum on constitutional reform. Many Italians feel that he had his chance and blew it.

The anti-establishment Five Star Movement, which promised so much when it first burst onto the political scene a few years ago, has lost some credibility as a result of its poor governance of Rome, where its candidate was elected mayor last year. And its candidate for prime minister, Luigi di Maio, is not only very young – he has no experience of government at any level.

“For all his faults, Berlusconi is someone that people know. Five Star’s leader is just 31 and as Berlusconi pointed out recently, his only gainful employment was as a steward at Napoli football games,” says Hooper.

Berlusconi and his supporters fervently hope that the Strasbourg court will overturn his ban on running for office before the elections.

But he insists that whatever happens, he is back in the game and will play a key role in the right’s bid to return to power.

“I hope the court quickly takes up my appeal,” Berlusconi told La Repubblica newspaper this month. “But my role in the next campaign is clear: independent of my ability to run, I will be campaigning for the center-right to lead the country.”

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Point of Progress

What's going right

5. Help for Boston’s homeless students begins at school

Teachers know their job rarely ends at the classroom door. Amid a spike in homelessness, Boston educators are directing their skills toward better identifying families in crisis, sharing resources that can point the parents toward greater stability and students toward higher achievement.

Amelia
Saniyah Henry gets ready for school in her grandmother's home with the help of her mother, Sashanna Stewart, in Boston on Nov. 29. Ms. Stewart and her daughter recently found independent housing after living for years with family and friends. There are some 3,500 homeless students in the district, according to Boston Public Schools.
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Ann Hermes/The Christian Science Monitor
 

The 30 Sec. ReadSashanna Stewart and her second-grade daughter Saniyah are enjoying something this week they’ve never had before: their own bedrooms. Ms. Stewart works as a housekeeper for a hospital, making $21 an hour, but her salary was not enough to afford an average $2,500 a month for a two-bedroom apartment in Boston. The pair had been living in a room at a relative’s place, a situation that qualified them as homeless. That began to change last year when Saniyah’s school sent home a note from Project Hope, which offered the number for a caseworker – and eventually a path to their own apartment. In 2017, more than 3,550 of Boston Public School’s 56,000 students are homeless – a sharp spike from 1,500 homeless students in 2009. In local neighborhoods, teachers, schools, and community leaders are collaborating around a specific goal: to stop student homelessness before it happens. “We’re trying to come at the issue from a different angle,” says Christine Dixon, executive director of Project Hope. “We’re working closely with schools to catch families at risk of homelessness.... It's not asking schools to take this on and be a housing organization, it's just about having the right partners.” (To watch a video of Sashanna and Saniyah, click the button for the full read.)

SOURCE: Massachusetts Department of Education and MA Coalition for the Homeless
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Story Hinckley and Karen Norris/Staff
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5. Help for Boston’s homeless students begins at school

This week, Sashanna Stewart and her second-grade daughter, Saniyah Henry, have something they’ve never had: their own bedrooms.

Ms. Stewart works as a housekeeper for Massachusetts General Hospital, making $21 an hour. But as a single mother, she’s never made enough to afford the $2,500 a month on average for a two-bedroom apartment in Boston. Since Saniyah was born in 2009, they have lived in one room of her mother’s first-floor walkup in Roxbury, a neighborhood south of Boston. Stewart says she signed up for city housing in 2010, but officials told her she made too much money and would likely stay on the waitlist.

“Some people don’t understand that you can still have a job and be homeless,” says Stewart, leaning on the arm of her mother’s couch before the move. “People think you choose to be homeless, but it’s not a choice.”

And so she stayed until one day last year, when Saniyah came home from Dudley Street Neighborhood Charter School with a note in her backpack from Project Hope, a local group that offered the number for a case worker – and eventually a path to the duo's own apartment.

Increasingly, the fight to end homelessness is moving from the street corner to the classroom. Homeless advocates see schools as a natural place to identify families in crisis. Teachers are becoming more attuned to signs of a housing crises, but their jobs as educators leave little time for social work. In the Boston neighborhoods of Dorchester and Roxbury, however, teachers, schools, and community leaders are pooling their resources and collaborating around a specific goal: to stop student homelessness before it happens.

“We’re trying to come at the issue from a different angle,” says Christine Dixon, executive director of Project Hope. “We’re working closely with schools to catch families at risk of homelessness.... It's not asking schools to take this on and be a housing organization, it's just about having the right partners.”

Saniyah Henry walks to meet the school bus with her mother, Sashanna Stewart, on Nov. 29, 2017, in Boston. Sashanna and her daughter recently found independent housing after living for years with family and friends. There are approximately 3,500 homeless students in the district according to Boston Public Schools.
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Ann Hermes/The Christian Science Monitor

Massachusetts as an epicenter

Stewart is an example of the changing face of homelessness. Rising rents in big cities across the country are pushing families with low-paying jobs into shelters, or more commonly, forcing them to “double-up” in homes of friends or relatives. Massachusetts stands out as an epicenter: after a 245 percent increase since 2006, the Bay State has more than 4,900 homeless families – behind only California and New York. In fact, families represent more than half of the state’s homeless population and more than 2 percent of public school students.

Zooming in on Boston, the problem is even starker. In 2017, more than 3,550 of the 56,000 students in the city's school district are homeless – a sharp spike from 1,500 homeless students in 2009. Advocates say these figures are likely an underestimate because many homeless families are too afraid or embarrassed to identify their situation to school or city officials.

Boston Public Schools (BPS) has moved to address this increase, with Mayor Marty Walsh and Superintendent Tommy Chang designating $1.2 million to aid homeless students in fiscal year 2018. This fall, for the first time, Boston schools have full discretion over a sizable chunk of funding to accommodate the needs of their homeless students, says Brian Marques, director of BPS' Opportunity Youth Department, which oversees homeless education.

Part of the spike is due to better accounting efforts within the state, which is the only one in the country with a “Right to Shelter” law. It guarantees temporary emergency shelter to qualifying families, which incentivizes them to come forward as homeless. And while the large numbers are discouraging, advocates say larger numbers are not necessarily a bad thing: more accurate data allows for adequate federal funding to fight the problem.

Sarah Slautterback, the state's coordinator for homeless education under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, a federal law that provides money to shelters, says her 49 counterparts across the country have witnessed similar increases in homeless families.

“Schools will see families go homeless first,” says Ms. Slautterback, adding that they can do a “great deal” for families, but not everything. “We push pretty hard at seeing what is out there in the community, and see what support we can provide beyond the building.”

Communicating about resources

In Stewart's case, after calling Project Hope, she was put in touch with Paulette Mendes, a case worker for their No Child Goes Homeless Initiative (NCGH). Just as she has done for other parents before and after Stewart, Ms. Mendes offered to sit down, hear Stewart’s story, help her sign up for benefits, provide job training, pay one to two months of missed rent if need be, and devise a plan.

“Families that are referred to me, say, ‘Wow. I’ve been dealing with this issue for a while now, and nobody told me that I can get help,’” says Mendes. “People want to stay in the community, but they don’t know about the different resources, and by the time they learn about them, they are already homeless.”

Stewart, for example, didn’t know that she qualified for food stamps before her phone call with Mendes.

Over the past five school years, 177 families have been referred to NCGH from their three partner schools: Dudley Street Neighborhood Charter School, Dearborn STEM Academy, and Orchard Gardens K-8 Pilot School. Of these families, 90 have been stably housed like Stewart and 42 percent of children in newly stable homes have had notably improved attendance records.

“We realized that this was a neighborhood problem and something we had to address and think about together,” says Project Hope's Ms. Dixon.

Dr. Lisa Bibuld, Director of Student and Family Support at Dudley Street Neighborhood Charter School, in Boston, helps educators look for signs of a housing crisis in students: falling asleep in class, food hoarding, dramatic changes in grades or behavior, or – most importantly – slipping attendance.
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Ann Hermes/The Christian Science Monitor

Not only does aiding families before they become homeless help a child’s education, but it also saves the state money. Shelters across the state have reached capacity, leading the state to increasingly place families in hotels – which typically costs the state $17,500 per family, according to a 2015 state report.

Comparatively, if a teacher at one of Project Hope’s three partner schools catches a case while the family is still in their home, they can get the family back on track for $800 to $1,000 through their state-funded rental assistance program.

“This program is having a lot of great outcomes, even with the limited resources we have,” says Mendes. 

Teachers' role 

Lisa Bibuld, director of Student and Family Support at Dudley Street Neighborhood Charter School, and case workers from Project Hope teach educators at Dudley to look for signs of a housing crisis: falling asleep in class, food hoarding, dramatic changes in grades or behavior, or – most importantly – slipping attendance.

“Identifying families is absolutely not just a priority, but it’s really paramount in making sure that a child is getting the services that she needs so she can be successful in school,” says Ms. Bibuld. “When children are not stably housed, when families are not stably housed, there is an inability to be present.… It spirals.”

Massachusetts has more than 21,110 homeless students, a number that’s been increasing for almost a decade. Data shows that these children are more likely to engage in risky behavior, have lower grades and poor attendance records, or dropout of school altogether.

“Homelessness is about poverty, violence, housing – but it's also about education,” says Barbara Duffield, executive director of SchoolHouse Connection and partner on a recent Hidden in Plain Sight Report. “Education is the number one thing to prevent future homelessness. We need to give kids the help they need immediately, but also ensure they won't be homeless in the future.”

SOURCE: Massachusetts Department of Education and MA Coalition for the Homeless
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Story Hinckley and Karen Norris/Staff

Moving forward

Stewart says there were a lot of times in the past three years when she wanted to give up.

“Saniyah would ask, ‘Mommy, when can I get my own room? When can I stop sleeping with you?’ She wants to have friends over but she can’t,” says Stewart. “It makes you feel worthless.”

Because of rising economic inequality and marginalization of low-income communities, teachers today have to be even more attuned to the needs of their students, says Bibuld.

“As educators… we have to be able to notice, see, and understand what we're seeing, in a ways we didn’t use to have to,” she says. “I'm hoping that schools of education where teachers are being trained have an eye to that now.”

As Saniyah walks around her new home on Saturday, each room provides a different kind of excitement. She points out the corner of the living room where she wants to put the Christmas tree, the wall of her bedroom where she will hang Bob Marley posters, and the oven in the kitchen where she plans to bake her favorite cookies. 

Stewart laughs at her daughter, but she can't hide her own excitement. 

“I have a place to call my own," she says. "Finally.”

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The Monitor's View

Olympic-class athletes find their voice of integrity

 

The 30 Sec. ReadIt wasn’t just a top-down move by a governing body. Top athletes themselves were a leading force behind the Dec. 5 decision of the International Olympic Committee to ban Russia from the coming Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, over its state-sponsored doping program in the 2014 Winter Olympics. (Athletes from Russia will be able to compete as “neutrals” if they can pass rigorous testing for banned substances.) For several years, athletes in many sports from around the world have taken part in grass-roots movements demanding that the Olympics stay true to their ethical values, especially fairness to fellow competitors and a respect for natural abilities over doped-up performances. The Olympics, along with other sporting events, need to remain values-driven rather than prestige-driven. “Preserving the integrity of sport,” says the head of one anti-doping agency, “must be our No. 1 goal today.”

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Olympic-class athletes find their voice of integrity

 

If you happen to watch the Winter Games this February in South Korea, take an extra close look at the athletes. Most will, of course, exhibit the finest qualities of sports, such as excellence, discipline, and teamwork. But lately they have also showed immense integrity. Top athletes around the world were a leading force behind the Dec. 5 decision of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to ban Russia from the event over its state-sponsored doping program in the 2014 Winter Olympics.

“The voices of the clean athletes have been heard,” declared a committee of athletes at the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) after the decision.

For several years, athletes have taken part in grass-roots movements demanding that the Olympics stay true to their ethical values, especially fairness to fellow competitors and a respect for natural abilities over doped-up performances.

 Each sport has its own effort. Weightlifters, for example, have a #iLiftClean campaign. Skiers have participated in a “Clean as Snow” campaign, which included YouTube interviews about their commitment to clean sports. At a world event last winter in Finland, many skiers signed a giant snowball and proclaimed “NO! to doping.”

In addition, many athletes have posted videos at My-Moment.org, saying they will not again be cheated out of winning medals, as many were at the 2014 Winter Games, where Russia took nearly a fifth of the medals. WADA is now spreading an annual celebration of Play True Day to encourage clean sports. And last year, a group in the United States started the Clean Sport Collective to fight against doping.

This momentum, says Olivier Niggli, WADA’s director general, will help “create a world where the clean athlete prevails ... a world where athletes choose to stay clean out of self-respect,... and for the pure joy that sport brings.”

In its decision, the IOC did leave a door open for athletes from Russia to compete at the coming Games in Pyeongchang – if they can pass rigorous testing for banned substances. But they will be treated as “neutrals” with no ties to their government. The IOC and its sporting federations know that the battle against doping is difficult to win – despite improvements in testing – without the help of athletes who want to stay clean. Many nationalities, not only Russians, have been caught cheating.

The Olympics, along with other sporting events, need to remain values-driven rather than prestige-driven – or the kind of rampant nationalism seen in cheating by the Russian government.

“Preserving the integrity of sport must be our number one goal today,” says WADA President Sir Craig Reedie. As witnessed in the IOC decision, that integrity was well played by thousands of athletes. 

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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.

Seeking and finding true worth

 

People often desire money, more material goods, or certain kinds of activity. Contributor Heidi K. Van Patten missed the extra income and the academic work when she left her teaching job to be a stay-at-home mom. But as she prayed, she realized that what she truly desired was a deeper sense of her worth as God’s child, and this realization strengthened her confidence in God’s unfoldment of good in her life. Not long after, she was led to follow through with an idea that was not only profitable, but gave her the opportunity to engage in academic work. Although prayer might begin with merely a desire for something physical, as we continue to pray, the true substance of what those desires represent is revealed. When we calmly trust God and allow our desires to be lifted higher, our deeper spiritual need – and our practical human needs – will be met.

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Seeking and finding true worth

When our children were young, I loved being a stay-at-home mom, and I’d gladly given up my teaching job so I could be home with them. However, there were two aspects of that job that I missed: the extra income and the academic work.

As I had done many times in the past, I decided to turn to God. I knew that prayer could heal this feeling of lack. And as my trust in God grew, I ultimately discovered that it wasn’t really a sum of money or a certain type of activity that I truly needed, but rather a deeper sense of my worth as God’s loved child.

With this realization, my desires were transformed and elevated. I was expectant of true satisfaction, and I knew that whatever form that might take in my life, it would be a blessing to me, my family, and others. While I didn’t have any idea how my desire for income and activity might come together, I began to feel confident that they would unfold as naturally and beautifully as the petals of a flower. And soon they did.

As a teacher, one of my favorite activities had been creating project assignments for my students that incorporated the arts, language arts, and social studies. I also loved to write. After several days of earnest prayer, it occurred to me that perhaps some of my project ideas could be useful to other teachers, so I began writing them out in a book format. The academic work I had missed was now a big part of my daily activity.

I submitted my manuscript for publication, and soon it was accepted! The publishing company then hired me to write and edit other materials. I enjoyed several years of very satisfying employment with this company before I decided to move on to other work.

To me, this experience was a clear proof that when we trustingly allow our human desires to be lifted higher, we are letting go of doubt and fear, and allowing God to guide us rightly.

I cherish the biblical record of Christ Jesus and his disciples. From the book of Acts, we know that Jesus’ disciples continued the healing ministry he had established and taught them, even after he was gone from them. One of my favorite accounts of this continued ministry is of Peter and John entering into a temple to pray, and being stopped by a lame man asking for alms, which could include any kind of handout, such as money, food, or clothing (see Acts 3:1-8). Peter responds, “Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk.” Immediately the man’s feet and ankle bones were strengthened. He is able to walk – for the first time in his life.

A synonym for the word alms is charity. And charity is another word for love. Could it be, then, that what the man truly needed was love – a deeper sense of his worth as a child of God? The Christly love that Peter and John expressed toward him that day must have included seeing him the way Jesus had taught them to understand others – as whole and valued creations of God. This spiritual understanding was powerful to not only enable the man to heal physically, but also spiritually, as he gained freedom from the limitations that, until then, he had probably just accepted as part of his life.

Although our prayers might begin with merely a desire for things such as money, other material goods, or even a certain kind of activity, as we continue to pray, the true substance of what those desires represent is revealed. When we calmly trust God and allow our desires to be lifted higher, our deeper spiritual need – and our practical human needs – will be met.

Adapted from an article in the April 24, 2017, issue of the Christian Science Sentinel.

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Viewfinder

Going deeper in Pompeii

A restorer works in the Schola Armaturarum site, part of the Pompeii archaeological area that has never been excavated and is now undergoing restorations, in Pompeii, near Naples, Italy, Dec. 6.
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Cesare Abbate/ANSA/AP
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris. )
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In Our Next Issue

( December 7th, 2017 )

Thanks for joining us today. In Washington, staff writer Francine Kiefer is watching as more than two dozen senators press Minnesota's Al Franken to resign. Tomorrow, she'll report on a shift in how hard a line Democrats are willing to take on sexual harassment.

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