Today's issue includes a look at the qualities of leadership in crisis, how the coronavirus has changed thinking about those in prison, staff suggestions about charities in this time of need, expressions of courage against a genocide, and simple science experiments for the house-bound.
The coronavirus crisis has made one thing clear: The world needs a pause button. We are shutting down economies because it is the kind thing to do. To trundle on would be to show a lack of compassion, particularly for those who appear most vulnerable. The world of 2020 is more humane than that.
Enter Denmark, which is perhaps going furthest to try to put its economy in the freezer for three months. To do this, the government will spend the equivalent 13% of its annual gross domestic product to limit layoffs and lost revenues. For example, “the state has agreed to take on 75 percent of workers’ salaries, up to $3,288 per month,” notes an article in The Atlantic.
A proportional program in the United States would cost $2.5 trillion. That figure is sobering. Denmark has large surpluses, but its calculus is universal. “The philosophy is, if we don’t do it now, it will be more expensive to save the economy later,” a Danish economist says.
No one knows if this will work. But as we become a kinder and more interconnected world, how will our economies likewise evolve to not punish us for our higher instincts? Bold, fresh thinking – both liberal and conservative – will certainly be required.
1.What makes a good leader in times of crisis?
Leadership can take many forms, as the coronavirus response is showing. But people also generally seek a few universal traits, such as reassurance and guidance.
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President Donald Trump’s critics have spent years calling him a wannabe autocrat. Now, amid crisis, these same critics want him in some ways to be more autocratic: Use all the levers of power to urgently ramp up production of medical supplies. Call for a national lockdown.
But the answer isn’t so simple. Taking centralized control of pandemic response could increase “the likelihood of abuses and inefficiencies,” warns constitutional scholar Jonathan Turley. In contrast, Obama Defense Secretary Leon Panetta sees the need for strong, centralized leadership. He can’t understand why someone who “calls himself a wartime president is not prepared to fully mobilize the entire country.”
Yet already, President Trump is looking to ease social distancing guidelines in just a few weeks, in defiance of public health experts. His goal: rescue the economy.
At heart, the pandemic has profoundly tested America’s multitiered system of governance, surfacing different models of leadership. Assertive governors, such as Andrew Cuomo of New York, are earning plaudits, while Ron DeSantis of Florida faced scorn for resisting statewide mandates. Experts say what matters most in leadership are key qualities: clarity, foresight, empathy, and ability to adapt.
“I alone can fix it,” Donald Trump famously asserted at the 2016 Republican National Convention, referring to “the system.”
The arena erupted in cheers. Today, amid a national crisis, the script has flipped. In key ways President Trump has deferred to governors, and hesitated to use the powers at his disposal – both formal and informal.
The moment is laden with irony. Since taking office, Mr. Trump’s critics have called him a wannabe autocrat as he blew through norms and pushed the boundaries of the Constitution’s checks and balances.
Now, at a time when a president might be expected to use executive authority to the max, these same critics want him to be more autocratic. Call for a national lockdown, some say. Order the production and acquisition of medical supplies, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo pleaded to the president, as the state faces a surge of coronavirus cases.
But the answer isn’t so simple.
Taking centralized control of pandemic response is “an invitation to concentrate not just the power of the White House, but also increase the likelihood of abuses and inefficiencies,” says Jonathan Turley, a constitutional scholar at The George Washington University Law School.
[Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.]
Each state has its own “pandemic profile,” he notes – including density of population, topography, and climate – and that means state and local authorities are better equipped to understand local needs.
What about a nationwide lockdown, as announced this week in the United Kingdom and even India, with its 1.3 billion people?
“That gets into a gray area. The president can’t even suspend habeas corpus without approval of Congress,” says Professor Turley, referring to the constitutional right against illegal confinement. “So if you’re going to have a true quarantine, you’d need enhanced federal police powers.”
But the president does have the bully pulpit. He could urge all Americans to stay home, and pressure governors and mayors to issue curfews or “shelter in place” orders. Mr. Trump’s declaration of a “national emergency,” announced March 13, frees up federal resources to address the crisis, not command action from the populace. Ditto his activation Sunday of the National Guard for the three most-affected states, which he stressed does not mean an imposition of martial law.
On Tuesday, the Trump administration triggered the Defense Production Act for the first time to help states access virus testing kits and face masks. But some states are begging for more sweeping action, on the order of President Franklin Roosevelt’s use of private industry during World War II.
States have also been begging for help in preventing bidding wars for supplies, such as N95 masks, that have driven up costs in some cases eight-fold. On Monday, Mr. Trump signed an executive order aimed at preventing price gouging and hoarding of critical supplies.
Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta argues that strong, centralized leadership is essential at this critical moment.
“I find it difficult to understand why someone who calls himself a wartime president was not prepared to fully mobilize the entire country in order to confront this crisis,” says Mr. Panetta, who served under President Barack Obama. “There’s no question we’ve had mixed messages coming from Washington.”
Indeed, President Trump is already looking to ease guidelines on social distancing in a matter of weeks, not months, in defiance of public health experts. His goal: to rescue the economy.
“We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself,” Mr. Trump has said.
Governors expressed alarm over his call Tuesday to “open up” the country by Easter on April 12. Though under the 10th Amendment, it is states that have the power to lift restrictions on people’s activities, not the federal government.
At heart, COVID-19 has profoundly tested America’s multi-tiered system of governance, and surfaced different models of leadership. Assertive, proactive governors, such as Mr. Cuomo and Mike DeWine of Ohio, are earning plaudits, while Ron DeSantis of Florida has faced criticism for resisting a statewide shutdown. Though he did order a 14-day quarantine for those flying into the state from New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut.
Governor Cuomo is a Democrat and Governors DeWine and DeSantis are Republicans. But party is irrelevant in assessments of leadership skill. What matters most are key qualities and principles, experts say: clarity, foresight, empathy, managing expectations, and – maybe most important – ability to adapt.
“Leadership is situational, but some things are inviolate,” says retired Lt. Gen. Nadja West, former commanding general of the U.S. Army Medical Command, now at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Center for Public Leadership. “During good times, you have to establish trust, then it’s easier to ask people to do things when there’s a crisis.”
General West also stresses that important information and good ideas can come from anyone on the team, and can help the leader “see around corners.” Several years ago, she heard of a potential medical threat in West Africa, and took her information to then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey.
It proved to be the early days of the Ebola outbreak. General Dempsey put together a task force, and when President Obama asked what could be done, the joint chiefs chairman was ready to respond.
The Army defines leadership, General West says, as “the process of influencing people by providing direction and motivation to accomplish the mission and improve the organization. That means anyone can be a leader.”
Of all the leaders who have come to prominence in the crisis, most compelling may be Governor Cuomo of New York. Now in his third term, the elder son of late Gov. Mario Cuomo is hardly a fresh presence – or even, in normal times, a particularly warm one.
But his daily press conferences, an odyssey of info-packed PowerPoint slides and personal reflections, have become appointment TV (or livestream) for those who want to see a “buck stops here” leader in action and a dose of compassion.
“If someone wants to blame someone, blame me,” Mr. Cuomo said March 22 in announcing statewide business closures aimed at thwarting the virus.
His elderly mother, Matilda Cuomo, and three grown daughters have become stand-ins for every baby boomer’s aging parents and young-adult children as he expresses concern for their welfare. Mr. Cuomo’s rules for behavior, aimed at protecting vulnerable populations, are dubbed “Matilda’s Law.”
Mr. Cuomo and Mr. Trump – both with “tough guy from Queens” facades – had developed a rapport during the crisis, but clashed Tuesday amid Mr. Cuomo’s desperate plea for ventilators and other equipment. Until then, Mr. Trump had prided himself on his dealings with governors from both sides of the aisle during the crisis.
Then there’s Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the president’s coronavirus task force. (He’s advised every president since Ronald Reagan.) He has been a reassuring presence at Trump press conferences, known for his diplomatic corrections of presidential pronouncements.
“He goes his own way. He has his own style,” Dr. Fauci said of Mr. Trump in a recent interview with Science Magazine. “But on substantive issues, he does listen to what I say.”
Often, in fact, leadership consists of good “followership,” i.e., being a team player.
Like Dr. Fauci, Vice President Mike Pence has earned praise for his calming, almost preacher-like presence, as he stays on-message and never outshines the president.
In the president’s Cabinet, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has been another standout, working across the aisle effectively with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as they hashed out a massive stimulus deal to rescue the economy. Senate leaders announced an agreement early Wednesday morning, and the chamber aims to vote later in the day, after ironing out some last-minute issues.
Paul Light, a professor of public service at New York University, is no fan of Mr. Trump. But he says the problems with the handling of this crisis are by no means all the president’s fault.
Going back decades, “we’ve seen an increase in the number of significant, highly visible breakdowns of government,” Professor Light says. His explanation: “We just have not done major repairs of our government systems, our technologies, our early warning, our civil service … for a good 50 years.”
Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.
2.Justice during pandemic: Police seek to protect public and prisoners
Usually, prisons are all about walls, but the coronavirus is breaking them down as people increasingly see prisoners’ health as vital to America as a whole – and a moral imperative.
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In Los Angeles County, home to the country’s largest local jail system, Sheriff Alex Villanueva is working to reduce crowding to protect people from COVID-19. He’s released inmates early, freeing those with fewer than 30 days left to serve. Deputies are arresting fewer people, with offenders who would see their bail set at $50,000 or less given citations.
The number of inmates in the jails has decreased by more than 1,000, and arrests have dropped from an average of 300 a day to 60.
LA County Public Defender Ricardo García is continuing to talk with the sheriff’s office about more ways to safely reduce the inmate population and the risk of contagion.
The novel coronavirus that has so far infected 400,000 people around the world and brought the global economy to a near standstill is reshaping society in dramatic ways, including how Americans think about care for prisoners.
The coronavirus “has raised awareness that what’s going on inside matters, and it affects us,” says Michele Deitch, a professor who specializes in corrections administration. “When we are through this nightmare situation, we may well be willing to make adjustments to our policies that recognize the need to continue some of those new practices.”
For an incarcerated person, visits from family and friends are “like life support,” says Jeremiah Bourgeois.
Those visits, he continues, “help you maintain your humanity” – and he would know, having spent 27 years in prison in Washington state.
But when the coronavirus outbreak was declared a pandemic March 11, those visits were one of the first things to stop. As tough as it is on incarcerated people and their families, it will protect public health, experts say. Mr. Bourgeois admits that, at first, he didn’t see it that way.
“I thought it was more a matter of not wanting the virus to come out of the prisons,” rather than protecting those inside, he says. “I’m so used to people not caring about what happens to prisoners.”
The pandemic that has infected more than 400,000 people around the world and brought the global economy to a near standstill is reshaping society in dramatic ways. How Americans think and care about prisoners is one of them.
Editor’s note: As a public service, we’ve removed the paywall for all our coronavirus coverage. It’s free.
There are 2.3 million people behind bars – many of them older and infirm, many without access to good medical care – and they have lived out of sight and out of mind for most Americans. But with the coronavirus crisis, conditions behind bars are now a public health priority.
Already, states are taking steps to release certain inmates from jails to lower their risk of exposure.
New Jersey is releasing 1,000 prisoners from jails this week, by order of the state Supreme Court chief justice, following similar moves in California. The intake and transfer of inmates and juveniles into California's correctional facilities has also been temporarily halted, with them staying in county custody for the next 30 days instead. New York City is releasing 300 nonviolent inmates from Rikers Island, after 38 prisoners and employees tested positive at the jail. Iowa, meanwhile, is expediting the release of about 700 people who have already been cleared for parole or work release.
On Monday, 14 senators sent a bipartisan letter to the Trump administration, asking it to quickly transfer to home confinement eligible, nonviolent federal inmates who are deemed at high risk for COVID-19.
And as more police and sheriff departments lower arrest rates and explore lowering inmate populations, more fundamental questions are emerging: Is this how things should have been all along? Are measures being implemented for the coronavirus era able to endure beyond the outbreak? And could any of this transformation be permanent?
The coronavirus “has raised awareness that what’s going on inside matters, and it affects us,” says Michele Deitch, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin who specializes in corrections administration.
“It’s not another world; it’s actually part of our public health system,” she adds. “When we are through this nightmare situation, we may well be willing to make adjustments to our policies that recognize the need to continue some of those new practices.”
The decentralized nature of the United States justice system means responses to COVID-19 have varied, as different jurisdictions seek to protect the health of their incarcerated population and the broader community while still fulfilling constitutional duties like the right to a speedy trial.
Local, state, and federal courts across the country have closed, from Bexar County, Texas, where justices of the peace have suspended eviction hearings, to the U.S. Supreme Court, which has suspended oral arguments.
As of March 20, some 15 states and the U.S. Bureau of Prisons had suspended all visitation, while 37 states were still allowing legal visits, according to a tracker maintained by The Marshall Project. Corrections administrators and law enforcement, meanwhile, have been taking a three-pronged approach: lowering admissions, speeding up releases, and improving overall hygiene and health screening of inmates and staff.
The front door
Local jail systems, which saw 10.6 million admissions in 2017, are a critical front line in the country’s COVID-19 response.
“They’re going to be the first place this starts,” says Professor Deitch. They “need to be turning off the spigot of who’s coming into the system.”
In Los Angeles County, home to the country’s largest local jail system, that’s what they’re trying to do.
LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva is working the problem from both ends. He’s released inmates early, freeing those with fewer than 30 days left to serve. Deputies are arresting fewer people – though still arresting violent suspects. Offenders who would see their bail set at $50,000 or less are being given citations, an increase from $25,000.
The number of inmates in the jails has decreased by more than 1,000, and arrests have dropped from an average of 300 a day to 60.
LA County Public Defender Ricardo García is continuing to talk with the sheriff’s office about more ways to safely reduce the inmate population and the risk of contagion. And on March 24 the Superior Court of Los Angeles ordered the release of an undisclosed number pre-trial inmates from the county jail.
A significant number of people are being held pretrial, not yet convicted of a crime – approximately 40% of the inmate population in 2016. His greatest concern is an acute outbreak in the jails.
“We have huge swaths of people in jail who would do fine in the community if steps were taken to help them,” he says.
Sheriff departments in Nashville, Tennessee; and Cleveland are taking similar actions. More than 200 inmates were released from Cuyahoga County jail in Cleveland earlier this month.
In Texas last week, the Fort Worth Police Department stopped making Class C misdemeanor arrests, while in Houston, the Harris County Sheriff’s Office is seeking compassionate release for some inmates in the county jail, where 540 people were 56 or older as of March 23.
In the prisons
The number of people age 55 or older in state and federal prisons increased by 280% between 1999 and 2006. For decades sanitation and health care in prisons have been a low priority, according to Homer Venters, former chief medical officer for New York City Correctional Health Services.
Health care behind bars “is poor and inadequate because it has been designed to be that way,” said Dr. Venters on a March 13 conference call organized by The Justice Collaborative.
“We hear a lot about hand-washing as the most important [outbreak avoidance] tool. Most of the jails and prisons I’ve been to around the country don’t have enough sinks,” he added. “And if there are enough sinks, there isn’t enough soap.”
And many prisons, jails, and immigration detention centers are full, if not overcrowded – an environment that, according to Dr. Venters, makes managing and preventing an outbreak “almost impossible.”
Some departments have been providing inmates with soap free of charge and waiving fees for inmate health care, but they should be doing more, says Professor Deitch. Prisons should be expanding compassionate release, providing free phone and video calls, ramping up medical checks, and instituting de-escalation measures so public health restrictions within prisons don’t boil over into violence.
“Anything we can do to get anyone out of there who doesn’t absolutely need to be there is smart from a humanitarian perspective, but also to reduce the spread of the virus in the community,” she adds. “What happens in jails and prisons doesn’t stay in jails and prisons, and when we’re talking about communicable diseases like this, that’s especially true.”
The back door
Texas announced on March 24 the first positive case of the coronavirus in a state prison inmate. There were about 9,600 people age 60 or older in Texas prisons in fiscal year 2018, with just over half of inmates behind bars for violent offenses.
“There are a lot of people in prison who don’t need to be there,” says Jennifer Erschabek, executive director of the Texas Inmate Families Association. “But you can’t just kick them out the door and say, ‘See you later.’”
Still, for inmates and their families, the thought of a COVID-19 outbreak behind bars is never far from their minds – and restrictions on visitation, logical as they may be, have not helped.
For Jeff Gifford and his wife, visits to their son in the Darrington Unit near Houston have been what they live for. Since they lost visitation on March 13, their reactions have varied.
“My first thought was, ‘[Darn] it, it’s horrible.’ My second thought was, ‘Thank God,’” says Mr. Gifford, a real estate agent in Austin.
“It’s a struggle,” he adds. “We’re just really happy the disease hasn’t spread inside yet.”
“You just don’t know how seriously [prison staff members] are taking the edicts set out by management,” he continues. “But you hope for the best; that’s all you can do. That’s what we’re doing every day.”
Something else Mr. Gifford, and many others, are hoping for is that, once the coronavirus pandemic has passed, people living and working in prisons and jails aren’t shunted back to society’s margins, and that new policies of compassion don’t disappear with the virus.
“We all need to be treating each other with more compassion and kindness right now, [including] in custodial settings,” says Professor Deitch.
“If jurisdictions do what I think they need to do – that’s reducing the number of people held in their custody,” she adds, “I think we’re going to learn it’s possible to do that quickly and safely without putting public safety at risk.”
Editor's note: This article was updated on March 25 to reflect new moves by states.
Editor’s note: As a public service, we’ve removed the paywall for all our coronavirus coverage. It’s free.
3.Global giving: Easing coronavirus fears with kindness
As anxieties over the coronavirus intensify, communities across the globe are fighting fear with kindness. Our correspondents around the globe offer ways to help.
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Times of crisis can bring out the worst in people, but they also, undoubtedly, draw out humanity’s best instincts too. From residents of cities across Europe stepping onto their balconies each evening to applaud the country’s health care workers; to perfume, alcohol, and clothing companies pivoting to produce hand sanitizers and face masks; to simple, individual acts like buying a sick neighbor groceries or checking in on an elderly friend, people around the world are reacting to fear and uncertainty with solidarity and kindness. As Fred Rogers famously said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
We’ve asked Monitor reporters around the world to point out the helpers in their own communities. They’ve vetted charities, from food banks to animal shelters, assisting hard-hit communities around the world.
Times of crisis can bring out the worst in people, but they also, undoubtedly, draw out humanity’s best instincts too. From residents of cities across Europe stepping onto their balconies each evening to applaud the country’s healthcare workers; to perfume, alcohol, and clothing companies pivoting to produce hand sanitizers and face masks; to simple, individual acts like buying a sick neighbor groceries or checking in on an elderly friend, people around the world are reacting to fear and uncertainty with solidarity and kindness. As Fred Rogers famously said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
We’ve asked Monitor reporters around the world to point out the helpers in their own communities. They’ve vetted charities, from food banks to animal shelters, assisting hard-hit communities around the world. We’ve included a description of the work each charity is doing, and how you can donate.
Food Link, Boston
Recommended by: Christa Case Bryant
What do you do with hundreds of half-pints of chocolate milk when a Boston-area school suddenly shuts down? Call Food Link, a nonprofit started in 2012 and powered almost entirely by volunteers, with only five paid staff. They salvage 1,500 pounds of food a day from grocery stores and redistribute it to people who need it, from low-income seniors to community college students. Now, the crisis is testing their creativity as they try to figure out what to do with half-gallons of cream from a local ice cream shop and pre-made sandwiches from a closing school, while many of their regular donating stores have less to hand over due to increased consumer demand. But their nearly 250 volunteers have risen to the occasion. “More volunteers have had to jump in in ways they didn’t before,” says co-founder Julie Kremer, who is also unpaid. “It’s wonderful. They’re so dedicated. ... They come at the drop of a hat.”
Community Led Animal Welfare, Johannesburg
Recommended by: Ryan Lenora Brown
Cora Bailey can tell how her society is doing by how it cares for its dogs. And right now, thing aren’t looking good. Her organization, Community Led Animal Welfare (CLAW), has taken in 60 surrendered dogs this week – four times the normal figure. Their owners, who come mostly from South Africa’s working class, told her they lost their jobs as businesses closed and families told their gardeners, builders, and cleaners to stay home without pay amid the country’s growing coronavirus outbreak.
Operating from a cluster of decaying buildings in the abandoned gold mining company town, CLAW is a catch-all charity for the shack settlements that surround it. In addition to a free vet clinic and animal shelter, it provides emergency assistance (including food, clothing, and medicine) to local residents, and lately, hundreds of peanut butter and banana sandwiches daily to fill the stomachs of out-of-school kids with nowhere else to get a midday meal. As South Africa’s economy continues to tumble, Ms. Bailey says it is poor communities like this one that will feel the effects most strongly. “We know we’re all putting ourselves at risk to be here, but we can’t just close willy-nilly and abandon the people who count on us,” she says.
California community funds, California
Recommended by: Francine Kiefer
Earthquakes, fires, drought – California has seen it all. But nothing like the novel coronavirus, which has caused an unprecedented disruption in daily life here. Residents across the state are now being told to shelter in place, and the governor expects public schools won’t reopen until fall.
Under these conditions, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti never misses an opportunity to highlight a fund to help Angelenos get through the COVID-19 crisis. The Mayor’s Fund provides support for families affected by the coronavirus (child care, meals etc.), equipment for health response, and help for the homeless, such as sanitizing stations. The city of San Francisco has a similar fund.
These, and other funds that are helping California communities cope with the outbreak and its vast fallout, can be found at Philanthropy California, an alliance of more than 600 foundations, corporate funders, individual philanthropists, and government agencies in the state.
Relais Alimentaire, Bayeux, France
Recommended by: Peter Ford
Michel Riss had a problem.
Mr. Riss, a retired bank employee, runs Relais Alimentaire, a local food bank in the northern French town of Bayeux. He relies on donations of produce near its sell-by date from supermarkets. But as panic-buying swept the town, those supermarkets had nothing left to sell, let alone give away.
Then a solution arrived, “a bolt from the blue, heaven-sent,” says Mr. Riss.
In Bayeux, like the rest of France, the government closed all schools indefinitely on Monday, leaving many with a week’s worth of food in their kitchens.
“This is bad for the schools, but it’s good news for us,” Mr. Riss says. “We feed about 300 people every week, and now we are supplying a homeless shelter which used only to provide breakfast. But with the new lockdown, they have to cook three meals.”
The school food “was a one-off, but it came just at the right time,” Mr. Riss says. With the canned goods and other nonperishables that Relais Alimentaire has in stock “we are good for about two weeks,” he says. “Then we’ll see.”
Recovery Cafe and Solid Ground, Seattle
Recommended by: Ann Scott Tyson
Seattle’s award-winning Recovery Café, founded in 2003, has made its mark serving hundreds of thousands of meals and providing other critical services to people recovering from trauma – such as homelessness, addiction, or abuse. Far more than a food kitchen, the café is an unconditionally welcoming community where every person contributes to others’ healing. Or, as founding director K. Killian Noe says simply: It is a place where people are “both deeply known and deeply loved.” Today, although the café’s interior is closed, its work continues, providing meals for pickup seven days a week. Donations can be made here.
Solid Ground, another Seattle-area nonprofit, works to end poverty and its root causes, and helps more than 75,000 households a year with programs to address homelessness, hunger, and other needs. Solid Ground, building on more than 40 years of experience, now operates 22 programs across King County and Washington state. In the current crisis, Solid Ground has innovated to continue its work, for example by coordinating prepackaged food deliveries and providing school lunch pickup for families with children who need meals. It is also providing transportation to additional shelter spaces for people experiencing homelessness.
Norwegian Refugee Council, global
Recommended by: Scott Peterson
Few organizations understand the needs and vulnerabilities of the 70-plus million people around the world forced to flee their homes like the Oslo-based Norwegian Refugee Council. That also makes the NRC one of the best at recognizing the challenges of stopping the spread of the coronavirus in cramped refugee camps, such as those in Syria, where water is limited and social distancing a dream.
To help fight the COVID-19 outbreak – and prevent camps especially in the Middle East from threatening the rest of the world through uncontrolled spread – NRC aims to double from 2 million to 4 million the number of people it helps with water and sanitation, and deepen health and public awareness campaigns in places where such lifesaving information can be scarce.
Die Arche, Germany
Recommended by: Lenora Chu
Working to fight child poverty in Germany since 1995, Die Arche (“The Ark”) is facing new challenges as families are thrust together like never before. Across the country, school’s out because of COVID-19, and 90% of the adults the charity assists are unemployed. “We are afraid the children will face major problems: Sexual violence, physical violence, nothing to eat,” says press liaison Wolfgang Büscher. “I met a family yesterday, a single mother [living] in four rooms with 12 children suddenly home. They have time, but no idea what to do with their kids.” During normal times, the organization’s staff help about 4,500 kids daily with leisure activities and learning, but during the coronavirus crisis their focus has shifted toward delivery of food as well as cellphones and SIM cards directly to the children. “So a child can call us directly if he’s experiencing violence,” says Mr. Büscher.
Central Texas Food Bank, Texas
Recommended by: Henry Gass
The Central Texas Food Bank serves a 21-county area that’s about twice the size of Massachusetts. Last year it provided food for about 50,000 people each week. Since a state of emergency was declared in Texas over the coronavirus pandemic, CEO Derrick Chubbs says they’re already seeing a “dramatic increase” in the need for their services, especially for “mobile pantries.” Mr. Chubbs said a mobile pantry that typically serves 100 people recently served 400. To meet that growing need the CTFB is putting together emergency boxes of food that people can pick up at mobile locations to minimize the risk of spreading COVID-19. Risk of spread is also hampering the organization’s use of volunteers, with an average of 80 volunteers each shift last year now restricted to 10. Thus the best way people can help is with monetary donations ($1 can supply four meals) online. They can also volunteer online. CTFB stocks its pantries with food from grocery stores, so if you live in Central Texas, Mr. Chubbs asks that if you’re not food insecure you purchase only the groceries you need.
Bono Gastronómico, Mexico City
Recommended by: Whitney Eulich
In Mexico, the culinary guide and website Culinaria Mexicana is rallying to help the food and hospitality industry face the repercussions of widespread closures and an expected quarantine. It’s organizing lists of restaurants and bars and encouraging patrons to buy “gastronomic bonds” to support them. That may be a donation of 500 or 1000 pesos ($20 to $40) that the restaurants can use to pay their staff, pay rent, or keep the electricity on.
The restaurants, in turn, will offer perks. For some, that means a party once the pandemic is under control and life returns to normal. Others are promising cooking classes, or restaurant swag, like sweatshirts. There is no central donation platform, but those interested in helping are asked to reach out to locales directly. Culinaria Mexicana is curating a list that’s updated daily.
Norma Listman, co-chef and founder of the Mexican-Indian fusion restaurant Masala y Maiz encourages people to donate or lend a hand to restaurants no matter where they are in the world. “Support the restaurant or the places that have marked something special to you. Remember that restaurant, whether on vacation in Mexico or Italy, and support the place that gave you a memorable experience so that we can keep building those experiences.”
Editor’s note: As a public service, we’ve removed the paywall for all our coronavirus coverage. It’s free.
4.‘Genocide is un-Burmese.’ Breaking taboos to speak for Rohingya.
When the risks of speaking out are high, why do it? For this small group of activists, it’s wanting to have a clear conscience – and believing that injustice against some is a problem for all.
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When you think of Aung San Suu Kyi, civilian leader of Myanmar, what comes to mind?
For decades, the Nobel Peace Prize winner was known in the West as a human rights icon. But since 2017, when international newspapers filled with images of fleeing Rohingya refugees, she has been increasingly condemned for her failure to stem the persecution.
In Myanmar, however, many people rallied around Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi as she defended the government from charges of genocide at the International Court of Justice in December. Discussion of abuses is largely taboo – and even the word “Rohingya” discouraged. People speaking out about the issue, or simply reporting on it, have been branded traitors.
“A lot of people misunderstood [and thought] that the nation and people are on trial, not the state and the government,” says activist Htuu Lou Rae. He himself started to question the state narrative in high school, when he befriended a Rohingya classmate.
Mr. Htuu Lou Rae is among a handful of fellow activists who have pushed back against the silence. Despite fears of being attacked, they’ve shown up at rallies with T-shirts and brochures about the genocide case.
The “violation of [Rohingyas’] freedoms, and injustice and discrimination they suffer, is my problem as much as theirs,” he says.
When Ei Thinzar Maung handed out T-shirts in downtown Yangon bearing the words “I stand against genocide in Myanmar,” she knew the risks.
It was Dec. 21, 2019. Less than two weeks before, Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi traveled to the International Court of Justice to “defend the national interest” from charges of genocide against the country’s Rohingya minority. Meanwhile, back home, thousands rallied across the country under the banners “We stand with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi” and “We stand with Myanmar.”
“People who are speaking against [the state] have become traitors of the nation,” says Ei Thinzar Maung. Despite their fear of being attacked, she and two fellow activists wanted to show that not all people of Myanmar stood with the state.
“We wanted to at least have a clear conscience,” she says.
Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar’s Rakhine State have long faced systematic discrimination, including limited access to health care and education, and restrictions of movement. In late 2017, more than 730,000 fled to neighboring Bangladesh amid widespread killing, rape, and arson by the Myanmar military.
A United Nations-appointed fact-finding mission found that the attacks were carried out with genocidal intent, and in November, Gambia filed a case at the International Court of Justice accusing Myanmar of genocide. But in the face of international condemnation, Myanmar has rallied around embattled civilian leader Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize-winning former human rights icon. She and the government have denied genocide took place, and defended the military’s actions as part of a counterinsurgency campaign.
Meanwhile, discussion of abuses committed against the Rohingya is largely taboo – and even the word “Rohingya” itself discouraged by the government.
“The idea of following a leader has been quite enshrined in the culture,” says Ei Thinzar Maung. “From young, you are taught [to consider] not what you want to do, but what you can do for your country.”
“You are talking too much”
In the eyes of many Burmese, the Rohingya are illegal interlopers from Bangladesh who threaten to swallow Myanmar’s Buddhist majority. Yet they trace their history in Myanmar back hundreds of years, and made up only about 2% of the country’s population prior to the exodus in 2017. Within Myanmar, international coverage of their persecution is commonly discredited as fake news, and Rohingya are often referred to as “Bengali.”
While Western critics have condemned Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s refusal to use the word “Rohingya,” the pro-military opposition has criticized her government for being soft on the issue. In January, after Yangon’s chief minister used the word “Rohingya,” 21 parties published a statement accusing him of attacking the nation while it faced judgment at the international court.
“If you say the word Rohingya, you will face problems,” said J Paing, the only photojournalist to cover the T-shirt campaign. After he posted photos of the event on his Facebook page, a prominent journalist called him a “national traitor.”
“When you talk about this issue, even your close friends will say, ‘You are talking too much,’” Mr. J Paing says.
Htuu Lou Rae, who grew up in Yangon and organized the T-shirt event, says he first started to question the state narrative in high school, when he befriended a Rohingya classmate. Today, he is the director of Coexist Myanmar, which promotes peace between Buddhist and Muslim communities, and a coordinator of the civil rights group Doa-A-Yae.
The “violation of [Rohingyas’] freedoms, and injustice and discrimination they suffer, is my problem as much as theirs,” he says. “We need to redefine that to be Burmese is to stand with freedom, justice and equality of all, to stand against genocide, and to stand with international legal mechanisms which prevent and punish genocide.”
The current climate, Mr. Htuu Lou Rae argues, results from the overlap between Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s popularity, ethnonationalism, and misreporting by the state and private media.
“The strong stand against the ICJ is partly due to ignorance of what is going on. The language barrier, misreporting by the local media, and legal jargon make it very hard to make sense of the nature of the lawsuit,” he says. “A lot of people misunderstood [and thought] that the nation and people are on trial, not the state and the government.”
“Genocide is un-Burmese,” Mr. Htuu Lou Rae adds. “What is needed to put a curb on illiberal nationalisms – especially in civil society – is moral courage in the face of obstacles.”
See no evil
On Jan. 23, the International Court of Justice ruled to impose provisional measures on Myanmar as the overall case continues, ordering the government to prevent future acts of genocide and not to destroy evidence.
In response, Myanmar’s state media published a statement titled “There was No Genocide in Rakhine,” saying accusers have “presented a distorted picture of the situation.”
At the international court hearing, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi described violence against the Rohingya as part of an internal armed conflict, provoked by attacks on military outposts by a Rohingya militant group. Myanmar’s military justice system – not the international court – should hold perpetrators accountable, she said.
Loyalty to Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi remains strong among the country’s Burmese Buddhist majority. Popular support reached a fervor in the weeks surrounding her appearance at the international court. Many adopted a temporary “I stand with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi” Facebook profile frame – a campaign that surfaced during the 2017 violence in Rakhine State – while similar posters appeared in homes and shops.
“Before, Daw Suu was my idol,” recalls Ei Thinzar Maung, referring to Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi. “When I saw her face, oh! I wanted to be like her. ... But the funny thing is, she’s not my idol anymore. Things changed.”
On Dec. 10, she and two other activists set up a table with the banner “I stand against genocide. Change my mind,” and distributed brochures at a rally to support Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi in Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city.
“When people stopped, we wanted to ask them, how did the hatred spread like this?” says Ms. Ei Thinzar Maung. Few people the activists spoke with had a clear idea of the international court case or the concepts behind it, says table organizer Zin Linn, but most were friendly. Within 30 minutes, however, police told them they were prohibited from handing out pamphlets, and they dispersed.
Yet once photos and videos of the rally and T-shirt event circulated online, the activists were accused of being funded by or part of an Islamic conspiracy – a common charge toward those speaking out on the Rohingya issue. Hate speech was scrawled across screenshots of their photos, and they received threats of violence, including one death threat by video call.
Fear or harassment, and worse, has led many journalists to self-censor, Mr. J Paing says. Last May, two Reuters journalists were released following more than 500 days in prison in relation to their investigation of the September 2017 massacre of 10 Rohingya. Earlier this month, the military sued Reuters for criminal defamation over an article on the death of two Rohingya women, though the case was withdrawn March 18.
For Mr. J Paing, however, “to not publish is like closing one’s eyes.”
“When people see photos, they can think. I will give all the information I have,” he says. “If they don’t see it, they won’t know, and if they don’t know, racism can increase.”
Science at Home
5.An icy pick-me-up
At a time when many people (yes, you, parents and grandparents) are at home with kids, here’s an installment from our Science at Home series – fun, simple experiments that can be done at the kitchen table.
Here’s a challenge: Can you pick up an ice cube floating in a glass of water without touching it, using just a piece of string? To help you out, we’ll also let you use some salt.
Maybe you tried slipping the string underneath the ice. Or maybe you tied a lasso and threw it at the cube, all the time wondering what the salt was for. Tricky, isn’t it?
Here’s how to do it: Lay one end of the string across top of the cube. Then sprinkle two or three pinches of salt on top of the string. Then wait a couple of minutes.
If all goes well, the string will sink into the ice cube, which will then refreeze on top of the string. Now you can easily pick up the ice!
Here’s how it works: Salt, when dissolved in water, actually lowers water’s freezing point below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, and this causes the ice to melt faster than it otherwise would. The ice around the string then refreezes, trapping the string inside.
In the winter, cities will often put salt on the roads to make them less slippery. More importantly, salt is also an important ingredient in ice cream and its nondairy equivalents. Cream freezes at a lower temperature than ice does, which means that ice can’t be used to freeze cream. But if you add salt to the mixture, then it can get cold enough to create a semisolid creamy confection.
To explore this further, fill two cups with water, pour four tablespoons of salt into one of them, and place the cups in the freezer. Which cup will freeze? The water or the salt water? Write down what you think will happen and wait three hours. Were you correct?
You can experiment with other common ingredients, such as sugar, flour, or pepper. What substance is best for lowering the freezing point of water?
This experiment is part of the Monitor’s occasional Science at Home series.
The Monitor's View
From Wuhan to Manhattan, a great sifting of what’s enduring
TWO WAYS TO READ THE STORY
After staying at home for two months under strict lockdown, the people of Wuhan in China are now able to return to normal life. Yet for many, the crisis has forced them to discover new norms, ones more durable than making money or seeking amusement. According to the Chinese press, this message from one resident is typical: “We should cherish every day and everyone we love.”
Wuhan has begun to reveal practical lessons. One is that people experiencing what is the largest mass hardship since World War II can reorient their lives to seek what is enduring and true, what ensures harmony over fear.
This desire to embrace the eternal also plays out in the politics of government decisions. In the $2 trillion package designed to minimize job losses and bankruptcies in the United States, Washington is struggling with deep ethical challenges. In these warlike conditions, a great sifting of values is to be expected. It often leads to practices that are more sustainable, such as a greater love for family and friends or an awareness that a range of pastimes – leisure travel, sports, gambling – can be put off or eliminated.
After staying at home for two months under strict lockdown, the people of Wuhan in China are now able to return to normal life. The coronavirus threat has eased. Yet for many, the crisis has forced them to discover new norms, ones more durable than making money or seeking amusement. According to the Chinese press, this message from one resident is typical: “We should cherish every day and everyone we love.”
Wuhan was the source of the global COVID-19 health emergency and now it has begun to reveal practical lessons. One is that people experiencing what is the largest mass hardship since World War II can reorient their lives to seek what is enduring and true, what ensures harmony over fear.
That search, of course, is a universal part of daily life but has been accelerated by a natural disaster on par with the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic. The unprecedented economic and cultural shocks are bringing a stronger appreciation and respect for what is often taken for granted: the courage of a delivery person, the diligence of a grocery store clerk, or the sacrifice of health workers and other first responders to the crisis.
Governors are determining which businesses are “essential” and can stay open. More people are concerned about those most vulnerable to the virus, such as people who are homeless, older, or in prison.
This desire to embrace the eternal also plays out in the politics of government decisions. In the $2 trillion package designed to minimize job losses and bankruptcies in the United States, Washington is struggling with deep ethical challenges. Who merits a bailout or merely a loan? Can the rescue money be used to press other goals, such as forcing companies to go green or narrowing the wealth gap? Is there really a choice between saving lives and reopening the economy?
In these warlike conditions, a great sifting of values is to be expected. It often leads to practices that are more sustainable, such as a greater love for family and friends or an awareness that a range of pastimes – leisure travel, sports, gambling – can be put off or eliminated. People feel a deeper yearning for priorities that endure.
Long after the end of the worst public health crisis in a generation, what might be the most memorable image of these days? It probably won’t be videos of people fighting to buy stashes of toilet paper. Instead, if the spirit in Wuhan is any guide, it will be pictures of people in Italy singing and playing music from their balconies, reminding themselves of what is true and lovely in their neighborly connections. Such are the reminders of the higher norms of life.
A Christian Science Perspective
Inspired, effective leadership
Sometimes it can seem hard to find examples of leadership that’s both kind and effectual. But as a former school principal found, a willingness to let God, good, impel our thoughts and actions empowers us to lead with compassion, care, and effectiveness.
I attended a conference recently that focused on the topic of biblical leadership. The presenters described how different patriarchs exemplified inspired leadership. When I looked up the definition of the word “inspired” in a dictionary that often uses biblical examples to illustrate the use of words – Webster’s 1828 dictionary – I was happily surprised to find this: “informed or directed by the Holy Spirit.”
Wow, I thought. What a contrast this is to the popular concept of leadership, which is often characterized by a display of authority, personal power, charisma, etc. I loved that idea of an inspired leader as one who is moved and directed by God, the divine Spirit, who is entirely good.
This made me think deeply about Christ Jesus, whose profound example continues to resonate millennia later, and whose every work was impelled by divine Love. I have often pondered some of the titles used in the Bible to describe Jesus – among them, Prince of Peace, Master, and Lord. And yet, he had no interest in acquiring material wealth or projecting personal authority and power. So, what was it that made him great?
Throughout his healing ministry, Jesus repeatedly said that his teachings and actions were not personal, but divinely reflected and impelled. He pointed to his complete reliance on God for inspiration and direction. For example: “As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love. ... This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you” (John 15:9, 12).
The Leader of Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy, speaks of Jesus as the “great Exemplar” in the Christian Science textbook. And she says, “He was inspired by God, by Truth and Love, in all that he said and did” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 51).
My desire to be a more compassionate leader at work led me to ponder frequently Jesus’ example of loving others as he was loved by God. This was especially helpful when I worked as a school principal and had to address behaviors that sometimes were not easy to overlook.
On one occasion, a boy was brought to my office for engaging in disturbing and inappropriate behavior. I silently reached out to God in prayer to restore my poise and for inspiration to know what actions to take. My prayers acknowledged that the divine power and presence were right there with all of us. I also affirmed with deep sincerity that everyone involved was embraced in divine Love’s care, and that Christly love is universal, able to be felt by everyone.
I have learned through my study of Christian Science that the true identity of everyone is spiritual, made in the image of God, as revealed in the first chapter of Genesis in the Bible; so we are created as the expression of God’s nature – of His love, purity, peace. I realized that the desire to do wrong was not this boy’s God-given nature, which was entirely good.
My prayers empowered me to address the boy firmly but kindly and calmly. In response, the boy became less upset. I accepted his apology, which felt sincere.
In preparing for a meeting with his parents, I prayed to affirm the power of God’s compassionate love to uplift the entire school community. During the meeting, there was a sense of humility and grace, and all agreed to follow appropriate guidelines to ensure the situation would not happen again. And for the rest of my tenure in that office, there was no repetition of that kind of behavior.
One time, after explaining to his disciples that he would be crucified, Jesus overheard them debating who among them should be the greatest (see Mark 9:30-37). He responded by taking a little child lovingly in his arms and conveying that it is in tender, loving care for others that one truly follows Christ. What a peaceful yet impactful way to illustrate what true greatness really is!
I love the imagery of greatness that Mrs. Eddy presents when she writes, “Be great not as a grand obelisk, nor by setting up to be great, – only as good” (“The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany,” p. 203). This simple yet profound counsel is one we are all capable of practicing. Why? Because the source of universal goodness is divine Love, and as God’s reflection, we are inherently able to express that goodness. Each of us can freely seek – and receive – divine guidance that helps us to be effective and inspired leaders.
Whooo are you?