Our five selected stories in today’s edition cover security in Iraq, a shift in how U.S. colleges measure merit, closing the inequality gap for low-wage workers, why age doesn’t define Democratic voters, and challenging injustice in South Africa.
Sometimes the path to progress goes through space.
On Monday night, 60 satellites were launched into orbit. Yes, 60. These little digital moons – about the size of a desk – are the next step in Elon Musk’s plan for high-speed internet access around the world. Literally.
But SpaceX is just getting started. This mission is the first of 20 planned Starlink launches this year. The company is creating an initial Earth necklace of 1,500 satellites. In low orbit (340 miles), there’s less signal delay, so internet speeds should be comparable to current broadband. By year-end, Starlink expects to sell internet access to the northern United States and Canada.
Yes, I’m a fanboy because I live in a rural area without internet. That may sound like we live in Henry David Thoreau’s cabin, but there are about 15 million to 20 million U.S. homes without broadband. Worldwide, half of the population doesn’t have regular internet access. It’s a huge digital info equality gap. And, that’s nearly 4 billion people who can’t play Fortnite. Devastating, right?
Starlink is one of four companies (including Amazon) racing to create low-orbit satellite internet. Skeptics say the economics won’t work. Astronomers hate the orbital clutter. And Facebook, Google, and other companies are also seeking cheaper – less ambitious – rural solutions. But Mr. Musk is leveraging SpaceX reusable rockets to quickly get this idea off the ground in hopes the revenues will someday fund his $200 billion Mars mission.
Look up: On a clear night, you can see ingenuity circling the globe.
1.US troops out of Iraq? What that would mean for both countries.
Unintentional consequences? The killing of an Iranian general could lead to U.S. forces leaving Iraq. Would that mean more – or less – security for Iraq and the U.S.?
Sgt. Kyle C. Talbot/USMC/AP
TWO WAYS TO READ THE STORY
The U.S. military presence in Iraq has been instrumental in leading a Western coalition in the fight against Islamic State and in training Iraqi forces to fight on their own. Analysts say both of those strategic U.S. goals are now in jeopardy in the fevered aftermath of the killing of Iran’s Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani.
“The killing of Soleimani, however you look at it ... has made it impossible for American troops to remain in our country,” says an Iraqi official in Baghdad. “It is the crossing of the boundaries of the coalition.” At the same time, the official says losing U.S. assistance “is going to be detrimental to the military institutions that we are trying to stand up.”
The United States officially says it’s not going. But even the possibility of an abrupt U.S. withdrawal is seen as an Iranian achievement. “This is a major, major victory for Iran,” says Toby Dodge at the London School of Economics. “If you look at key U.S. allies within the security system, the American troops going home leaves them hugely exposed.”
As for U.S. trainers trying to create a counterbalance to Iran-backed militias? “That’s over now,” he says, “if they ever had a chance.”
With his death, Iran’s Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani may be about to achieve one goal he strove for in life: Withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Iraq.
Saying the United States had breached Iraqi sovereignty when it assassinated Iran’s most powerful general with a drone strike in Baghdad, the Iraqi parliament voted unanimously Sunday, albeit without minority Sunni or Kurdish lawmakers present, for the removal of the remaining 5,500 U.S. troops in the country.
The American military presence has been instrumental in leading a coalition of Western nations in Iraq and Syria to fight the Islamic State (ISIS) and in rebuilding and training Iraqi forces to wage that battle on their own.
Analysts say that both of those strategic U.S. goals are now in jeopardy in the fevered aftermath of the killing of General Soleimani. His funeral processions in Iraq and Iran drew millions of devotees, and, in a show of Iranian nationalist unity, drew vows of “severe revenge.”
“The killing of Soleimani, however you look at it, and whatever you think of Qassem Soleimani, has made it impossible for American troops to remain in our country,” says an Iraqi official in Baghdad who asked not to be named.
“It’s a breach of sovereignty, flying these armed drones without authorization or knowledge of the Iraqi government [and] conducting a lethal strike within our country on a foreign official,” he says. “It is seen as American overreach. It is the crossing of the boundaries of the coalition.”
Defense Secretary Mark Esper denied late Monday that the U.S. had decided to withdraw its troops, despite the leak of an unsigned letter from the top U.S. commander in Iraq notifying Baghdad of force movements in the “coming days and weeks to prepare for onward movement.”
“We respect your sovereign decision to order our departure,” wrote U.S. Marine Corps Brig. Gen. William Seely. The Pentagon called the letter a draft and a “mistake.” Days earlier, U.S. troops had already suspended the anti-ISIS fight to harden their positions against the risk of attack from Iran or its loyalist allies.
Even the possibility of an abrupt American withdrawal from Iraq – not on Washington’s terms, but forced by Iraqi leaders – was being seen by some as a “victory” for Iran. The U.S. has invested $1 trillion and some 4,500 American lives to create, as initially envisioned, a pro-American, democratic bastion in the Middle East.
Those aspirations evaporated long ago, after years of U.S. missteps in Iraq were met with violent chaos and insurgency, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. A two-volume, 1,300-page U.S. Army study of the Iraq war published in 2018 found that “an emboldened and expansionist Iran appears to be the only victor.”
U.S. allies left exposed
Tuesday, the burial of the Iranian commander who did much to orchestrate that outcome was delayed, after more than 50 mourners were killed in a crush in his home city of Kerman, in central Iran.
On Monday, Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei openly wept at General Soleimani’s coffin, as he led prayers in Tehran. Eulogies praised the general as a national hero and “martyr” for the axis of resistance he did so much to create against the influence of the U.S. and its regional allies.
Now his killing is triggering a fundamental reassessment of the American military presence in Iraq and beyond that analysts say will undermine the fight against a rejuvenating ISIS and leave Iraq and its security forces increasingly vulnerable to pressure from Iran’s proxies.
“Soleimani’s legacy was that the big plan to attack U.S. bases was to trap the Americans into an overblown military response, and no one realized how overblown it would be,” says Prof. Toby Dodge, an Iraq expert at the London School of Economics.
“This is a major, major victory for Iran. And it means key [U.S.-Iran] balance players, from the [Iraqi] president on down, will now have to run for hiding, because they can’t reach out to the West and forge a new alliance,” says Professor Dodge, who visits Iraq several times a year.
“If you look at key U.S. allies within the security system, the American troops going home leaves them hugely exposed and without much courage that things are going to get better.”
At a stroke, the anti-Iran sentiment that grew during months of anti-government protests in Baghdad, leading to attacks on Iranian consulates and pro-Iran parties in Shiite cities across the south, has been replaced in the headlines by anti-American feeling.
The anti-U.S. backlash began after a Dec. 29 American missile strike on the Iran-backed Kata’ib Hezbollah militia, killing 25. Its members, in turn, attacked the U.S. Embassy, breaching and burning its outer walls.
Effective coalition training
Now political reforms demanded by Iraqi protesters have, at best, been put on the back burner as the shockwaves reverberate from the assassination.
And the ramifications of forcing out U.S. troops would be profound for Iraq, where the initial American withdrawal in 2011 – after the 2003 invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein and the attempts to rebuild state and military institutions – led to deeply pro-Shiite sectarian politics. Those paved the way in 2014 for the Sunni jihadist onslaught of ISIS.
General Soleimani is credited by many Iraqis for swiftly intervening to save Baghdad from ISIS by providing materiel and advisers and for supporting a popular mobilization force that would turn into the powerful Iran-backed Shiite militias in the country today.
But it has been the systematic American-led effort to rebuild and train the Iraqi security forces, which disintegrated in the face of the ISIS advance, that will be critical for Iraq’s future. U.S. and coalition airpower was also instrumental in driving back ISIS.
“We have seen during the war against ISIS just how effective coalition training is, and how the most successful troops in battle were the ones trained by the coalition,” says the Iraqi official. “To lose that support is not a good thing for Iraq. It is going to be detrimental to the military institutions that we are trying to stand up, which are still nascent, which still need training wheels as they learn to ride their bike.”
Indeed, Iraqi forces are still far from self-sufficient despite years of U.S. funding and training, according to the quarterly U.S. military inspector general’s report to Congress published in October.
Iraqi forces’ ability to “find and fix” a target remains a “major shortfall,” the report found, and noted that “exploitation capability is ‘virtually non-existent’ without Coalition assistance.”
Iraq’s acting prime minister, Adil Abdul-Mahdi – who owed his position to a deal brokered by General Soleimani, and who officially resigned last November in the face of the street protests – told parliament Sunday that “urgent measures” were needed to remove U.S. forces from Iraq.
Sanctions on Iraq?
President Donald Trump reacted angrily to the Iraqi parliament move. He said if Iraq kicked out U.S. troops, it should be made to repay “billions” of dollars spent on Al-Balad airbase – though far less was spent on that base and, according to a 2008 agreement, all U.S. military infrastructure left behind when the U.S. first withdrew in 2011 became Iraqi.
Mr. Trump also vowed to impose sanctions on Iraq heavier than those now imposed on Iran, which are crippling Iran’s economy. That is a sensitive subject for Iraqis, who often blame tough sanctions imposed by the U.S. and other Western nations on Iraq during the last 13 years of Saddam Hussein’s rule for the deaths of half a million Iraqi children.
At the very least, analysts say, Washington is unlikely to renew Iraq’s waiver from U.S. sanctions on Iran when they come up for renewal next month. That result alone could affect everything from the critical supply of Iranian electricity to Iraq, to preventing trade using dollars.
“America’s departure under these circumstances – of Trump’s own making, I think we should stress that unambiguously – is going to be economically painful for Iraq,” says LSE’s Professor Dodge.
U.S. troops will leave, “undoubtedly, and it’s just [a question of] how much damage they do as they go,” he says.
“If you speak to American and NATO trainers, clearly what they were doing in their mind was trying to build up political, organizational, and military autonomy juxtaposed against” the Iran-backed Shiite militias, he says. “That’s over now, if they ever had a chance.”
A deeper look
2.No SAT? No problem. Colleges let students opt out of exams.
By moving away from test requirements, U.S. colleges are part of a profound change in the way society measures merit. Instead of a single SAT or ACT score, they’re reinforcing the importance of talent and character.
TWO WAYS TO READ THE STORY
Few things loom over American high school students more than college admissions tests. But a movement is accelerating across the United States, with more colleges giving students the choice of either submitting their SAT or ACT scores or not. Public and private colleges from Arizona to Illinois to Massachusetts – including some of the most elite – have adopted a test-optional model or are moving in that direction. It marks one of the biggest changes in college admissions in the past two decades.
Though the demise of the ubiquitous tests is far from inevitable, the shift in approach is contributing to a profound change in the way schools and society measure a person’s value. Instead of giving the impression that admissions is based largely on a single test score, more colleges now proclaim loudly that the totality of an individual is so important that a test score is no longer necessary. The result is a feeling of relief from students, but also more economically and racially diverse freshman classes.
“Testing has never been the most important part of our application process,” says Marjorie Betley, an admissions officer at the test-optional University of Chicago. “What better way to stress that than to just take [the requirement] away.”
After classes and 4-H Club meetings and homework, Esmeralda Hernandez spent a portion of her spring semester junior year engaged in a nightly routine familiar to millions of American teens: logging on to a website to practice math, reading, and timed test-taking for the SAT.
While she scored fairly well, she decided to study more over the summer and take the entrance exam a second time. Her hard work paid off: She earned the highest score in her small senior class in tiny Swainsboro, Georgia. But for a farmworker’s daughter whose college aspirations stretched beyond state lines, it still didn’t seem good enough.
In her home nestled in the woods on a dirt road, she kept looking longingly at a postcard sent by the University of Chicago, her top choice. What always caught her eye was the image of a coffee stain on the card, which, when looked at closely, showed the chemical formula for coffee. The quirky intellectualism behind the card only reinforced her desire to attend the elite university.
Yet she nearly gave up on her dream school, until she discovered it offered full scholarships – and the option of applying without submitting an SAT score. Suddenly, hope rushed back in, tinged with uncertainty.
“I thought that if I hid my test scores from the school, they would ask, what are you hiding?” she says. “But it was also very freeing in the fact that I didn’t have to be defined by something that was only four hours and didn’t really, in my opinion, define who I was as a person. ... There were so many more things that reflected how intelligent or motivated I was.”
Few things in life loom over American high school students more than college admissions tests. After years of toiling to earn good grades, years of slogging through Advanced Placement courses, and years of participating in extracurricular activities to burnish their credentials, many students take a test that they’ve been told can either catapult or crush their college hopes.
But now a movement is accelerating across the country – with more colleges giving students the choice of either submitting their SAT or ACT scores or not. Public and private colleges from Arizona to Illinois to Massachusetts – including some of the most elite – have adopted a test-optional model or are moving toward it. It marks one of the biggest changes in college admissions in the past two decades.
The result is a feeling of relief – and liberation – among both high schoolers and parents, in competitive metropolises and quiet rural towns alike. Perhaps more important, the move is contributing to a profound shift in the way schools and society measure a person’s value. Instead of giving the impression that admissions is based largely on a single test score, more colleges now proclaim loudly that the totality of an individual – yes, the good grades earned, but also the person’s unique talents and character – is so important that a test score is no longer necessary.
Rise of the “nonsubmitters”
Test-optional institutions continue to accept scores from students who want to share them, as one marker of achievement, and an average of 75% of their applicants still do. But the schools are breaking down some long-held notions about how to take stock of a student’s merit and likelihood of success – largely in the name of equity.
“What we do know about higher education is that it reproduces inequality ... and it’s good to try and destabilize that a little,” says Elisabeth Clemens, a sociology professor at UChicago who was not involved in creating the new test-optional policy.
This neo-Gothic campus, the Midwest’s closest equivalent to an Ivy League school, caused a buzz in the summer of 2018 as the first top-ranked university to go test-optional.
The list of bachelor’s degree-granting institutions that de-emphasize the tests has grown to 1,060 since Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, pioneered test-optional in 1969. Today, more than half of the “top 100” liberal arts colleges are on the list, the National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest) reports, and about 50 joined in the past year.
The first student class to include “nonsubmitters” of test scores arrived at UChicago this fall. Professor Clemens says she can’t tell who they are when she asks a class of first-year students to “wrestle with important arguments” in centuries-old texts like Hobbes’ “Leviathan.” She trusts that both types of applicants will thrive here, though she’ll keep an eye on research in the coming years on student performance.
The massive University of California system might be the next to go test-optional. Its Board of Regents had been considering dropping the SAT/ACT requirement even before students and a school district filed a recent lawsuit, claiming that the tests have a discriminatory effect because of racial and economic disparities.
California could prove a “tipping point, because it is the largest recipient of SAT scores in the country [and] it is viewed as the most prestigious public university system,” says Robert Schaeffer, FairTest’s public education director.
Yet the ubiquity of the tests suggests that their demise is far from inevitable. More than 2.2 million students in the high school class of 2019 took the SAT, and 1.8 million took the ACT. Many states require and pay for students to take one of the exams.
The nonprofit groups that own the tests push back vigorously against perceptions that they are unfair or put too much pressure on teenagers. Research has shown that when combined with high school GPA, the scores boost colleges’ ability to predict GPA and the likelihood that first-year students will return for a second year. “It’s a measuring tool. ... You cannot blame the measurement for inequities or inequalities in society,” says Marten Roorda, CEO of ACT, based in Iowa. Test makers use rigorous methods to ensure the test questions themselves are not biased, he says.
The SAT or ACT can provide opportunities for students, like Ms. Hernandez, whose talent otherwise might never have been discovered. Many colleges send out recruitment mailings to students with good scores who live in places their admissions officers don’t visit.
Advocates for the tests also say that high school GPAs are not comparable, because of highly localized school systems in the United States. Without a standardized benchmark like a test result, grade inflation could become a bigger problem, and “wealthier students [could] game the system by having stronger letters of recommendation” or other advantages, says Lynn Letukas, who formerly worked for the College Board (which owns the SAT) and co-edited the 2018 book “Measuring Success: Testing, Grades, and the Future of College Admissions.”
Hard work’s reward
This storied Harry Potter-esque UChicago campus fringed with modern architecture is a whole new world for Ms. Hernandez. Ninety-two Nobel laureates have walked the same stone stairways and underground tunnels she scurries through between classrooms and libraries.
Just as exciting to someone who used to have to drive for miles to get to Walmart, she can hop on her used olive-green bicycle and zip to class or a variety of stores in the Hyde Park community in a few minutes.
But the bike isn’t the only thing accelerating her. Attending UChicago is pushing her quickly up the social mobility ladder.
At one point, she thought all she could afford was to enroll in a state public university, where she could apply two years’ worth of credit she earned at community college during her high school years.
Her Mexican-immigrant parents didn’t attend college. And her only recent role model who left Swainsboro for an elite university was a family friend from church who went to Yale. But she felt encouraged by her small town – even the woman on the other side of the window where she went to pay her phone bill last summer asked about her plans.
Eyeing a major in political science and/or sociology, she says she’s grateful “to meet a lot more interesting people who all worked hard throughout their four years to get to someplace like this.”
She’s sitting at a dark wooden table in Hutchinson Commons, an Oxford-inspired dining hall and student lounge, where the global mix of students contrasts with stately rows of UChicago presidential portraits lining the walls. But even indoors, the Peach State native is still wearing her beige knit cap to ward off the cold.
Here she anticipates gaining insights from stellar professors, internships, and possibly a study-abroad trip to Paris or Barcelona. At a four-year school, she says, she can “be a young adult for a while, rather than just getting two years of university experience and then jumping out into a career field.”
UChicago requires applicants to write two essays, one about why they want to attend the school, and one based on their choice of five topics. “Can you read and write and think? That’s going to be a big indicator of how you do here,” says admissions officer Marjorie Betley.
Test-optional swayed Ms. Hernandez to apply, but her ability to come also depended on a broader set of policies – including financial aid – to open up access for underrepresented students. In the first round of test-optional admissions, in the fall of 2019, UChicago’s applications jumped 20% overall. But they went up 60% for rural students and 24% for first-generation students.
In rural communities, “there’s not a lot of test prep around there ... and a lot of students are driving two, three, four hours” to get to an SAT or ACT test, says Ms. Betley, director of the university’s Emerging Rural Leaders Program. “Testing has never been the most important part of our application process. ... What better way to stress that than to just take [the requirement] away.”
Ms. Hernandez’s former school, Swainsboro High School, recently hosted a test-taking session for the ACT. Among the school’s 160 seniors, just over half typically go on to college – usually within Georgia, says counselor Monica Pace.
Those applying for public universities or scholarships have to reach a minimum SAT/ACT score, and that can motivate students to work harder on math and reading, she says. One student aimed for a scholarship that requires a 1200 on the SAT. “This recent test, she was so excited,” says Ms. Pace.
“I think she’s taken it three times; she finally got her score.”
Burden or achievement?
For parents like Pat Lynch, any move away from the pervasive presence of the SAT or ACT in high schoolers’ lives is welcome. Just before noon on a crisp October Saturday, Ms. Lynch is browsing a catalog in the driver’s seat of her black Volvo, waiting for her daughter to emerge from the SAT at Nashua High School North in New Hampshire. Her daughter has already taken the SAT twice at her own Roman Catholic school, and the ACT once.
“She’s having a hard time getting a decent score, and she’s a smart kid – all A’s, great GPA, four years of math, four years of science – but these tests are a lot of pressure,” Ms. Lynch says.
She thinks her daughter will apply without scores to the three out of five colleges on her list that are test-optional. Colleges are “finding out that this SAT is a racket,” she says.
Not true, say the test makers. Since a new version rolled out in 2016, the SAT has dropped “all vestiges of the aptitude approach used to develop the early SAT 100 years ago,” College Board spokesman Zachary Goldberg writes in an email. “Gone are the infamous ‘SAT words,’ penalties for guessing, and math that isn’t necessary for college work.”
Ms. Hernandez acknowledges that her hours spent prepping on Khan Academy, an education platform that partners with the College Board to help applicants get ready to take the exam with a free online program, did some good. “I learned certain techniques in algebra ... [and] I got a lot of critical reading training. ... I can read extremely fast and still take a lot of things in.”
But the tests still feel like an unnecessary requirement to many students.
“Being good at standardized testing is being good at standardized testing,” says a UChicago first-year student from California who asked to keep her name private.
Freshman Daniel Gendy says he felt a lot of pressure to compare his test scores with those of other potential applicants on college online forums. The night before he sent in his UChicago application, he decided to check the test-optional box. “I was involved with my high school’s founding of a robotics team, and I wanted that or other extracurriculars, such as fencing, to represent me,” he says.
Some students think too much focus on testing can be a detriment to the academic culture.
“Schools are supposed to be about learning and education and just expanding your mind as much as possible,” says fourth-year UChicago economics and philosophy major Max Marcussen, who hails from a rich Connecticut town where testing and tutoring go hand in hand. With test-optional admissions, the hope is that “having less emphasis on test scores means that you can focus more here on what actually matters.”
Several weeks into her first quarter, Ms. Hernandez dropped her calculus class. She had tested into it, and plans to take it later, but she found that having the optional fourth class in her schedule left no time for extracurriculars. Now she’s enjoying the Model United Nations club and tutoring adults for the citizenship test.
Students here say the curriculum challenges everyone, and they get tremendous support from professors and peer tutors. But researchers have been curious about whether the academic outcomes at test-optional schools are different for those who don’t submit exam scores. A 2018 study of 28 large and small institutions found that nonsubmitters had marginally lower first-year and cumulative college GPAs than submitters. But nonsubmitters graduated at equivalent or slightly higher rates. The report, co-authored by a test-optional supporter, showed that first-generation, low-income, female, and underrepresented minority students were more strongly represented among those who didn’t submit test scores.
Supporters of testing say the growth of diversity on these campuses can’t necessarily be linked to test-optional policies, because the schools often offer other incentives to students, including financial ones. To help schools with their diversity goals, the College Board recently added a feature called Landscape, which helps give a fuller portrait of who students are and where they come from by putting scores in the context of neighborhood and school demographic information.
SAT and ACT scores “can be a valuable indicator for certain students,” says Peter Wilson, UChicago’s director of undergraduate admissions. “If the students feel like it shows their intelligence or it shows how they’re doing, we would love them to send it in. I don’t think we would ever get rid of it or say we’re going to be test-blind.”
Yet that’s exactly what testing critics in California want at public universities.
A growing revolt
Use of the SAT and ACT is “morally impermissible ... and the admissions process should no longer be contaminated by this discriminatory metric,” said Mark Rosenbaum, directing attorney at the nonprofit Public Counsel, in filing a lawsuit Dec. 10 against the University of California system on behalf of students and the Compton Unified School District.
California data from 2019 show that 45% of white students scored 1200 or above on the SAT, compared with 9% of African American students and 12% of Hispanics. The University of California’s Academic Senate had already begun considering removal of the test requirement and is expected to make recommendations within a few months.
The growing revolt over testing could bolster a backlash against another pillar of the higher education establishment – testing-based merit aid. Some colleges, such as Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in Massachusetts, have already stopped considering test scores when handing out discretionary scholarships.
Breaking down the connection between “so-called merit scholarships” and SAT/ACT scores is “the next frontier to broaden accessibility to higher education,” says FairTest’s Mr. Schaeffer.
Admissions shifted to test-optional at WPI in 2007. Since then, the school has not only seen diversity rise, but also retention and graduation rates. But with costs as much a barrier to entry as the admissions tests, leaders decided that tying aid to the exams could hamper their goal to broaden access to science and technology degrees.
First, they stopped participating in the National Merit Scholarship Program, which requires the PSAT in junior year. But WPI’s algorithm for its own merit scholarships still used SAT/ACT scores. So in the 2016-17 cycle, the school started assigning an average test score to applicants who hadn’t submitted exam results. The next year, they cut standardized test scores completely out of the merit aid calculation.
“The public narrative that testing firms often play into is this idea that test scores are a proxy for academic quality,” says Andrew Palumbo, WPI’s dean of admissions and financial aid. Once a critical mass of schools goes test-optional – particularly more nationally known universities – he believes that notion will fade. “The biggest problem we have now is the legacy of standardized test scores – the myth that they are the great equalizer upon which you can put everyone side by side,” he says.
Yet some schools have gone in the opposite direction. In 2013, the University of Oregon added test scores to its merit scholarship requirements, while still considering high school GPA. The method was more transparent and the school boosted its academic profile, reports “Measuring Success.”
Hezekiah Owuor, for one, is happy with the approach WPI took. The student at the technical institute built a computer and taught himself to play piano, guitar, ukulele, and drums back in his hometown of Mombasa, Kenya. Now he’s the beneficiary not only of test-optional admissions, but of test-neutral merit aid as well.
“I never had the resources and facilities to be able to just simply explore,” he says of his interest in combining music and computer science. Halfway through his second year at WPI, he’s planning an independent study “to write code that reacts to sound and music.”
Mr. Owuor sat for the SAT and the ACT in Kenya, putting in several hours of studying online each week for about a month. On top of exams for his International Baccalaureate degree, he didn’t have enough prep time to score as high as he had hoped, he says. When his counselor told him about WPI, he decided to apply without submitting his scores. He believes the school’s test-optional philosophy has not only been beneficial to him but has also had a positive effect on campus culture.
“You don’t feel like you are defined by the number that you got,” he says. “It’s very much an environment of innovation and what you can bring to the table – what you can do, as opposed to what this test said that you could do.”
3.US low-income workers gain ground. Finally.
Closing the inequality gap: We look at why low-wage workers are now seeing bigger raises than high-wage earners.
A new year has arrived with pay raises in store for many of the lowest-income U.S. workers. Wages have actually been growing faster for the bottom quarter of U.S. earners than for other income groups – a positive sign in an economy that has been defined in recent decades by widening inequality.
A worker shortage has forced many employers to raise pay. Our chart package below shows the progress, and it illustrates another key reason: Many state laws will see scheduled increases to minimum wage this year, or annually adjust that wage for inflation. The changes for 2020 span from Alaska to Florida. In some states, minimum pay has a range that depends on the employer size, geography, type of work, or (in Nevada’s case) whether a job comes with health insurance.
Some economists warn of mixed effects when wage levels are mandated. It can be an incentive for companies to substitute automation for employment. But many experts on the issue say that, on balance, the effects of boosts in minimum wages across America have been positive for workers.
“These real minimum wage increases since 2010 have not only raised low-wage workers’ wages generally,” analysts at the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute said in a Labor Day report last year. They “have also played an important role in reducing the gender pay gap at the bottom of the wage distribution.” – Mark Trumbull, Staff writer
4.Young progressives flock to Sanders. Their grandparents prefer Mayor Pete.
In this story, we learn why Democratic voters in the U.S. are defying stereotypes, looking beyond a candidate’s age to values – such as responsibility, honesty, and trustworthiness – that complement their own.
TWO WAYS TO READ THE STORY
The 2020 Democratic field of presidential candidates has made history for its number of women and candidates of color. It also stands out for its age diversity. If elected, Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, would be the youngest president ever on Inauguration Day. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders would be the oldest.
And just as Mr. Buttigieg and Senator Sanders are decades apart, so are many of their supporters – only in reverse.
The bold policies and uncompromising style of Mr. Sanders, a democratic socialist, have captivated many young people, with one recent Iowa poll showing him in the lead among likely caucusgoers between the ages of 18 and 29. Meanwhile, Mr. Buttigieg’s more centrist approach and his calm, thoughtful demeanor have drawn the support of many baby boomers – with those over the age of 65 in the same poll favoring him.
“You might think people my age would automatically choose someone our age, but I feel like we are ready for a new generation to lead,” says Kathy McCue of Iowa City. “His age is not a problem for me – it’s an asset. There is this idea for fresh, new hope coming from him.”
Kathy McCue has been asking undecided voters a question: What kind of world do they want for their grandchildren?
Most of the time, the response has less to do with policies than values – such as responsibility, truth, and respect. And that’s her segue to talk about Pete Buttigieg, her favorite 2020 candidate and the person she thinks would usher in the best future. Even though he’s the same age as her children.
The 2020 Democratic field of presidential candidates has made history for its number of women and candidates of color. It also stands out for its age diversity. If elected, Mr. Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, would be the youngest president ever on Inauguration Day. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, former Vice President Joe Biden, and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren would all be the oldest.
And just as Mr. Buttigieg and Senator Sanders are decades apart, so are many of their supporters.
Mr. Sanders’ 2016 primary campaign famously saw the rise of “Bernie Bros,” the passionate young supporters who #FeeltheBern and are once again fueling the almost-octogenarian’s candidacy. Meanwhile, grandparents such as Ms. McCue are flocking to Mr. Buttigieg’s campaign.
Much of it has to do with ideology. The bold policies and uncompromising style of Mr. Sanders, a democratic socialist, are in line with the views of many young people today, who lean further left than their elders. Mr. Buttigieg, by contrast, has tried to define himself as a more centrist figure, and projects a calm thoughtfulness on the stump that older voters say they appreciate.
At the same time, many specifically point to qualities in candidates that complement – rather than mirror – their own. Young voters praise Mr. Sanders’ life experience and time-tested commitment to ideals, and are less concerned about his health and stamina, despite his heart attack this fall. Older voters wax enthusiastic about Mr. Buttigieg’s youthful vigor and dazzling intellect and aren’t as worried about his relatively short résumé.
“You might think people my age would automatically choose someone our age, but I feel like we are ready for a new generation to lead,” says Ms. McCue. “His age is not a problem for me – it’s an asset. There is this idea for fresh, new hope coming from him.”
“We need a uniter”
Many Buttigieg supporters – like Linda and Bob Ofner, both retirees – point out that his youth means he has skin in the game. Compared to the “old men” in Washington, Mr. Buttigieg will actually be alive long enough to feel the long-term effects of his policies, says Ms. Ofner from her kitchen table in Bettendorf, Iowa, as the couple’s two dachshunds bark to be held.
Most important, she adds, Mr. Buttigieg understands that the country needs to stop fighting and come together. “More than anything we need a uniter,” says Ms. Ofner. “I think a lot of boomers feel that way.”
Nestled between Christmas pillows in her living room in Iowa City, Ms. McCue expresses disappointment that she would have to miss an event with Mr. Buttigieg because it coincided with her oldest granddaughter’s fourth birthday, and “Nana” had promised to be there.
She, too, highlights his ability to bring people together, suggesting it comes from a willingness to admit when he is wrong. That kind of humility and open-minded approach to problem-solving is “refreshing” in a politician, she says, and reminds her of her years as a teacher, when she encouraged her students to act in a similar way.
“He’s how you hope all young men will grow up to be: truthful, trustworthy, responsible, no put-downs,” says Ms. Ofner. “At one of his first events people were saying, like, ‘Oh, I wish he were older, I wish this, I wish that’ – but then by the time he was done talking, everyone was cheering and crying.”
A Civiqs and Iowa State University poll last month of likely Democratic caucus attendees found that 25% over the age of 65 say they will back the young mayor – more than any other Democratic candidate – while Mr. Buttigieg’s lowest levels of support are among those between the ages of 18 and 29.
The opposite is true for Mr. Sanders. The poll found that 35% of young Iowa Democrats say they’ll support the Vermont senator – more than any other candidate – while just 9% of the oldest cohort favor him.
For most of these voters, the candidates’ main selling points are their policies, says Stella Rouse, an associate professor of politics at the University of Maryland. “This whole idea of, ‘We want someone from our generation to represent us,’ is overblown and over-simplistic,” she says. “Millennials see [Sanders’] energy and his politics, and they are drawn to that. There is a huge cross-generational appeal.”
Millennials and the appeal of socialism
Mr. Buttigieg casts himself as a centrist, which baby boomers like Ms. McCue and the Ofners see as a good thing. They miss the “old days” when compromise was still possible in Washington. They also oppose “free everything,” which they believe other Democratic candidates are promising. The candidate who comes in second place with this age group, Mr. Biden, holds similar positions on these issues and is selling himself as able to win over moderates and anti-Trump Republicans, as well as those who feel nostalgic for a past America.
Conversely, Mr. Sanders calls for a “21st-century economic Bill of Rights,” a reassessment of the country’s vast income inequality, free college, and “Medicare for All.” These proposals resonate with America’s youth, says Ms. Rouse, co-author of “The Politics of Millennials.” Having come of age in the shadow of the 2008 economic crisis, millennials now find themselves the best-educated generation in American history – and the worst paid.
A Gallup poll from 2018 found that 51% of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 have a positive view of socialism (the largest percentage of any age group), while just 45% have a positive view of capitalism (the smallest percentage of any age group).
Waving a Bernie poster outside the New Hampshire Democratic Party state convention earlier this fall in Manchester, a cat ears headband adorning her pink hair, Alycia Tsoukalas says Mr. Sanders’ age doesn’t matter to her.
“He’s for a $15 minimum wage, health insurance, LGBT rights, free college tuition – I mean, I’m in my final year and I’m scared to graduate,” says Ms. Tsoukalas, a New England College student who works at a tattoo shop. “I think it’s one of the coolest things ever that he is one of the oldest candidates but he’s for us, the young people.”
Indira Gonzalez and Alana Lamontagne, nursing assistants from Manchester and Pelham, New Hampshire, respectively, agree. They support Mr. Sanders because his proposals would make their lives tangibly better, they say, which makes it feel as if he really cares about them.
“Erasing student debt. Like, if he can get rid of that, then that’s a lot of peace of mind for us,” says Ms. Gonzalez. “He’s the only one really rooting for college students and people our age.”
When Ms. Tsoukalas does think about Mr. Sanders’ age, she says she sees it as a good thing. He actually participated in the civil rights movement, she notes, whereas she has only read about it.
Just as Ms. McCue appreciates Mr. Buttigieg’s having a personal stake in the future, Ms. Tsoukalas appreciates Mr. Sanders’ firsthand knowledge of the past.
“It means he has more life experience,” says Ms. Tsoukalas. “Age is just a number.”
5.A woman’s right to her land
In many places, land is a foundation for income and independence. Our reporter spoke with a South African activist who’s fighting for rural women’s land rights as they challenge injustice.
TWO WAYS TO READ THE STORY
For the past few years, if you’ve read much news from South Africa, you’ve seen “land reform” in the headlines pretty frequently. But for activist Sizani Ngubane, now a finalist for the Martin Ennals human rights award, land has been at the core of her work for decades.
At age 6, watching her uncle evict her mother from the family’s property, she thought, “When I grow up I want to be part of the people who are going to correct these wrongs.” She went on to found the Rural Women’s Movement, which works to protect women’s land access and ownership – a continued challenge in some communities.
Ms. Ngubane spoke by phone with the Monitor’s Ryan Lenora Brown about why land is so important in South Africa, and what keeps her going as an activist.
“The thing I’m most proud of isn’t necessarily any legal battle we’ve won,” she says. “It’s the fact that before we started this movement women in many rural communities were not empowered to speak. Now we see our women speaking up for their rights, even at national and international levels.”
The first inkling Sizani Ngubane had that she might grow up to be an activist came when she was just 6 years old. It was the early 1950s, and while her father, a migrant worker, was away from the family home near the eastern city of Pietermaritzburg, his brother evicted her mother from their land. “You’re a woman,” she remembers her uncle telling her mother, “so you have no right to this property if your husband isn’t around.”
Those were the early years of apartheid, South Africa’s infamous system of white minority rule, and a woman like Ms. Ngubane’s mother had few places to turn. The white government wasn’t likely to be on her side, and neither were the men in charge in her own community.
At 6, of course, Ms. Ngubane didn’t know exactly what was happening, but her mother’s humiliation told her all she needed to know. “From that experience I just said to myself, when I grow up I want to be part of the people who are going to correct these wrongs,” she says.
In the 70 years since, indeed, she has become the voice for tens of thousands of women like her mother. In the late 1990s, Ms. Ngubane was a founding member of the Rural Women’s Movement, which today counts some 50,000 members. Among other work, the organization fights to make sure women have access to, and ownership over, the land on which they live and work. This has been a major challenge in many rural areas under the authority of semi-autonomous traditional chieftaincies that were originally set up by the apartheid and colonial governments. These leaders have often been reticent to give more rights to women.
As South Africa’s government mulls over whether to expropriate some land from white owners and return it to the country’s black majority, her work has become all the more urgent – and complicated.
Ms. Ngubane is one of three finalists for the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders, which will be awarded in Geneva this February. She spoke by phone with the Monitor’s Johannesburg bureau chief Ryan Lenora Brown about why land is so important in South Africa, and what keeps her going as an activist.
Since the start of democracy in South Africa, there’s been a program to provide land or money to people who were stripped of their land during the colonial or apartheid periods. But it’s moved slowly, and over the last few years, there’s been a lot of talk about expropriating land – that is to say, redistributing the land, whether current landowners want that or not. What do you think of that idea? And do you think it will really happen?
I support it. A large percentage of South African arable land is still in the hands of white people, even though they are a small minority in this country. How equal is that? How constitutional is that? But the problem now is that our government is not really doing anything about it. They promised us in the 1990s that by 2014 they would have redistributed 30% of land into hands of original users. I say users and not owners because in our culture land is not owned. Mother Nature was not a commodity that could be bought and sold. But only about 10% of that land has been returned to date. So I think those promises were politically motivated to get people to come out and vote in elections. I don’t see real transformation of the land situation happening anytime soon.
Why is access to land so important for South African women in particular?
When you begin to give land to women, a lot of abuses in society are eliminated. They can feed their own families without fear of being evicted. They can inherit land when their male relatives die. And most importantly, they are not so controlled by the men in their lives. Because when land is the main value of a society and women cannot own land, we are nothing. We are not 100% human beings. It is easy to abuse and abandon us. So the land is the only way out for us.
What is the accomplishment you’re most proud of?
The thing I’m most proud of isn’t necessarily any legal battle we’ve won. It’s the fact that before we started this movement women in many rural communities were not empowered to speak. Now we see our women speaking up for their rights, even at national and international levels. And no one tells them to shut up, because we have taught them that this is our constitutional right. [The men] know they must listen.
You’ve been an activist for nearly six decades. And there are still more battles to be fought. Right now, for instance, you’re preparing to go to court as part of a challenge against the Ingonyama Trust, an organization run by the Zulu king Goodwill Zwelithini that controls an area in eastern South Africa the size of Belgium. I’m wondering what keeps you going through battles like this one.
It comes from my heart. From when I was 6 years old I knew exactly what I was going to do with my life. Don’t ask me how exactly I knew there was a world outside that rural community where I grew up. The only other place I had ever seen was the city of Pietermaritzburg [10 miles away], where I went once a year with my mother to buy school shoes. But somehow I knew even then I was going to grow up to see the world, and learn from it. And that’s exactly what I’ve done.
The Monitor's View
A Christian Science Perspective
Help that’s always present
It can seem easy to feel scared and helpless in the face of challenges. But when we trust in God to inspire our prayers and actions, we can gain peace and stability that foster solutions instead of fear.
When I open the newspaper each morning, it too often feels as if a whole host of problems cascades off the pages and onto my table. It can be easy to feel disheartened and helpless.
I am not a powerful, “connected” person, but even so, I’ve found hope and a way to help, through my study of the Bible and Christian Science.
The Bible provides many accounts of how people overcame conflict both within nations and when facing external enemies – similar to challenges we see in the world today. One is the account of David and Goliath.
Goliath was so dauntingly huge and mighty that he filled the hearts of opposing soldiers with fear. None of the Israelites would meet his challenge to them to fight with him one on one. But David, an unarmored shepherd, was not daunted. He’d had experiences of relying on God for protection from wild beasts and other dangers. This gave him confidence that God was an ever-present help no matter how big a challenge might appear to be.
From that standpoint, he said, “Let no man’s heart fail because of him; your servant will go and fight” (I Samuel 17:32, Revised Standard Version). And he went to meet Goliath, declaring, “You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin; but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied” (I Samuel 17:45, RSV).
With the sling he was accustomed to using as a shepherd, David launched one smooth stone. That simple stone was sufficient to bring down the giant who had threatened the armies and terrified the people.
For me, this shows that we don’t need to be terrified, even when conditions seem threatening. The same God who helped David and the people of Israel through many dangers is with us today. Referring to God as Love itself, Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer of Christian Science, puts it in this comforting way: “Divine Love is our hope, strength, and shield” (“Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896,” p. 113).
This isn’t an abstract concept to me. I have prayed with this idea many times and seen results. It speaks to the ability of justice, truth, love, and intelligence – qualities God bestows throughout creation – to prevail even in complex situations. God expresses His wisdom and strength in all of us, His spiritual offspring. If we trust divine Love’s intelligence, rather than our own opinions and agendas, to lead our prayers and actions, we can gain peace and stability that benefit others as well. As the Bible promises, “Wisdom and knowledge shall be the stability of thy times, and strength of salvation” (Isaiah 33:6).
For example, I know a woman who serves on the board of a small nonprofit organization. This group was trying to solve a difficulty that had legal and financial implications. Everyone wanted to meet the legal requirements, but doing so involved significant financial outlay that would be a great burden. They needed a better answer! The group felt very boxed in by the situation, and there was a feeling of frustration in the room.
This individual began silently praying for an insight that would enable the organization to obey the law, while also trusting that they could experience the kind of compassion and mercy that Christ Jesus showed to be included in God’s care for all. She reasoned from the basis that God is totally good, the divine Mind that governs intelligently. Her prayers affirmed that there was an answer and rejected the notion that a long-term burden was the inevitable outcome.
She felt a quiet sense of expectation from that spiritual reasoning. Then an unexpected solution that would satisfy both the legal requirements and the financial situation came to her. The woman proposed it to the other board members, who agreed to pursue it. The attorney confirmed that it was indeed a viable route to take.
This is a small example. But to me it illustrates God’s tender care for all of us, at all times and in varied situations, and it inspires my prayers for my community and the world.
We can strive to be receptive to divine guidance in our lives and trust in God’s ability to guide us toward constructive outcomes that forward understanding and peace.