2019
October
11
Friday

Today’s stories include a rebel gun owner taking on the NRA from the inside, a defining moment in Polish politics, a counterintuitive coastal construction boom, the struggle for migrants returning home to their native Nigeria, and a glimpse of the world builders that hope to capture TV audiences this fall.

First, let’s take a deeper look at a French phrase that’s reappeared in the news lately: “coup d’état.”

“Coup” is shorthand for overthrowing a government. Experts define it specifically as ousting an executive authority by extralegal means.

It’s relevant today because President Donald Trump has used it to describe the ongoing House impeachment inquiry. Supporters follow his lead: On Thursday an attendee at a Minneapolis Trump rally told Yahoo News that impeachment “is a complete coup, and it’s at the highest levels of intelligence agencies.”

This is misleading. Impeachment is a legal process outlined by the Constitution to allow Congress to weigh charges of misconduct against top U.S. officials.

To call it a coup is to embrace a “deep state” conspiracy theory for which no evidence now exists.

But the charge isn’t unprecedented. Frustrated partisans in past impeachments have used “coup” as well. President Richard Nixon’s supporters did. President Bill Clinton’s did too.

The day before the Republican-led House voted to impeach President Clinton in December 1998 members engaged in a marathon debate that echoed some of the arguments used today.

“This partisan coup d’état will go down in infamy in the history of this nation,” said one Democrat.

That lawmaker was Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York, who today is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and a key player in the current impeachment process.

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A deeper look

1. The hunter who could take down the NRA

What drives a passion for guns? For one man, it started in childhood and continues with loyalty to a cause – if not to the giant organization he’s fighting to clean up.  

Peter
Ann Hermes/Staff
“I have told NRA directors that I can be one of the NRA’s biggest advocates or worse nightmare, and Mr. LaPierre and his leadership team have chosen the latter,” David Dell’aquila says he wrote to the National Rifle Association's board in a letter in July.

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The National Rifle Association has been embedded in politics to a degree that virtually no other special-interest group can match. While polls may show bipartisan support for some gun restrictions, GOP lawmakers who go soft on gun rights are likely to face primary challenges. “It’s a story about intensity,” says law professor Adam Winkler. “Pro-gun rights voters are much more dedicated to this issue.”

David Dell’aquila, a 6 foot, 6 inch retiree with the girth of a football lineman, is the picture of this dedication. A few years ago he willed several million dollars from his estate to the NRA. But after the 2016 election showed the NRA to be increasingly in the red from questionable expenses, Mr. Dell’aquila organized against the group.   

He has filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging fraud and misconduct against the NRA and recruited more than 1,000 others to withhold contributions. Should the NRA fall on its sword, other pro-gun groups are ready to step in, including at statehouses where most gun laws are written. “The gun lobby is not a bunch of overpaid suits in D.C.,” says advocate Jeff Knox. “The gun lobby is you and me.”

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The hunter who could take down the NRA

In a wooded clearing, David Dell’aquila pulls his dust-caked all-terrain vehicle up to a deer feeder. He climbs atop the ATV and hoists a sack of gray pellets, which he pours into an aluminum hopper, one of three on his ranch. 

If the deer don’t eat the feed, the turkeys will. Mr. Dell’aquila would rather shoot deer than turkeys, so he doles out 50 pounds of feed a day, and has cleared land and expanded ponds to attract more of the white-tailed quarry that roam these hills and valleys. 

He’s dismissive of local hunters who brag about the young bucks they’ve bagged – and determined to keep them off his ranch, which is studded with private-property notices and heat-and-motion sensors to monitor wildlife and unbidden humans. “These people in a lifetime never shot a 200-point deer,” he says, referring to a particular scoring system for a rare antler size. “I’d like to be the person who shoots one.” 

Mr. Dell’aquila stands 6 feet, 6 inches tall and has the girth of a football lineman, which he once was. He has been known to eat two 48-ounce steaks for dinner. He pitches forward with an ursine gait, and when he talks, a low rumble of digressive and didactic points, it’s the voice of Sylvester Stallone playing Rocky. 

It’s 90 degrees in the shade as he steers his ATV into a field where he’s installed solar-powered irrigation for his fledgling fruit trees. A skein of wood ducks crosses the cloudless afternoon sky. 

A retired millionaire, Mr. Dell’aquila could afford to hire enough workers and equipment to turn his 862-acre ranch into a hunting and fishing redoubt. But that’s not work, and work – sweaty, hazardous, dusty outdoor work – is what makes him tick when he’s out here. “This is where I come up with my best ideas,” he says. 

Challenging the NRA

Lately those ideas have been targeted at the National Rifle Association, of which Mr. Dell’aquila is a lifetime member and, until recently, a financial supporter. Today he regrets his past generosity to a group whose stated mission – to defend the right to bear arms – is one he avows as his own. Mr. Dell’aquila wants to see the NRA’s scandal-plagued management gone and is putting his broad shoulder to the wheel, using financial and legal pressure to force reform. 

Forget about Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire who bankrolls gun control initiatives all over the country. Forget about Democratic efforts in Congress to expand background checks. Forget the students of Parkland, Florida, and their earnest anti-gun crusade. The real threat to the NRA – for decades, one of the most powerful lobbying groups in the United States – may be from a handful of members who want to blow up the organization from the inside.

In this case, however, they aren’t trying to make the lobbying group impotent. They want to make it stronger – and gun rights even more inviolate. Mr. Dell’aquila is one of the most resolute members of this growing internal revolt by gun lovers against the leaders of a nonprofit that is a synecdoche for U.S. civilian firepower and political clout.

“The organization has political problems, legal problems, and financial problems,” says Robert Spitzer, a political scientist and author of several books on gun rights. “And, ironically, it’s their own fault.”

Wobbly finances and leadership

The NRA has weathered internal and external crises before, from political controversies to boardroom coups. But its latest fracas may prove existential: Its finances are already listing from mounting legal fees and boycotts by wealthy donors like Mr. Dell’aquila, who accuses chief executive Wayne LaPierre and other officials of reckless spending and self-dealing. At the same time, attorneys general in New York and Washington, D.C., are investigating financial irregularities at the NRA and its charitable foundation that could affect its nonprofit status. “They got polluted. They’re enriching themselves,” says Mr. Dell’aquila.

It’s a comeuppance that has gun control advocates salivating. But the uproar within the NRA doesn’t signal any retreat by gun owners in the fractious fight over firearm laws. Should the NRA fall on its sword, other pro-gun groups that are more militant in asserting their constitutional rights are ready to step in, including at statehouses where most gun laws are written. 

“The gun lobby is not a bunch of overpaid suits in D.C.,” says Jeff Knox, Arizona-based director of The Firearms Coalition. “The gun lobby is you and me, gun owners and lovers of liberty around the country who stand up and argue for their rights.”  

The NRA, which is headquartered in Fairfax, Virginia, insists it is rooting out waste and that its critics, including ousted former president Oliver North, were blocking reform. It accuses disgruntled donors like Mr. Dell’aquila of abandoning the fight against “anti-gun Democrats” in Congress. And even as Mr. LaPierre has become a pincushion for pro-gun critics, he still has a hotline to President Donald Trump, for whom gun owners represent a totemic constituency. 

This is a war of attrition that will shape the future of the world’s largest gun lobby. And David Dell’aquila is all in. 

Guns and childhood

Mr. Dell’aquila grew up in a Pittsburgh suburb, one of four children. His father, Louis Dell’aquila, was a lawyer at the Veterans Administration and an accomplished chef who would invite family and friends over on Christmas Eve for an Italian-style feast. 

To hear David Dell’aquila tell it, he had an unhappy childhood. He was diagnosed with a speech impediment and didn’t speak until he was 3. At age 5, in 1966, he was sent to The Pathfinder School, a special education facility where he learned little, except that he didn’t want to be there. 

To his father, his social exclusion was a mark of failure, and he would refer to his son as “damaged goods,” says Mr. Dell’aquila. In sixth grade he was allowed to transfer to public school and Mr. Dell’aquila began to excel in class, relying on rote memorization to overcome his speech limitations. “There are still words I stay away from,” he says, as he reclines on a sofa beneath a mounted boar’s head at his modest ranch house.

Ann Hermes/Staff
David Dell’aquila sits with his dogs, beneath a boar's head he shot, at his ranch in southern Kentucky.

His embrace of guns started early. His father’s VA buddies taught him to use a shotgun to kill rabbits and squirrels, and he got his hunting safety certificate at age 12. His taste for hunting, combined with a competitive streak, has stayed with him. He’s shot bears in Quebec and big game in South Africa. He carries a handgun on his ATV in case he runs into snakes.

Mr. Dell’aquila excelled on the gridiron. He turned down several college scholarships, though, and went instead to Princeton University because it was ranked first that year academically, and he liked to be first. He weighed 320 pounds and played football until he injured his back in his sophomore year, but he was never a jock. “I always hung out with the weedy 99-pounders,” he says. “I would always go for the underdog.”  

He graduated in 1984 and pursued a career in technology and financial services, changing jobs frequently, earning high salaries, and investing wisely. At age 46, he figured he had made enough to retire.  By then he had married Marita, his second wife, whom he met at Citibank. 

“We could’ve retired pretty much anywhere,” he says. Maryland, where they lived at the time on a 13-acre suburban lot, was out. Taxes were too high – and gun laws too tight. When they shot targets on their property, as they liked to do, the cops often showed up. 

“How about that one time when they asked you, ‘Where’s your wife?’ ” interjects Marita Dell’aquila. “I had to come out and prove to them that I was all right.” 

“That was a couple of times,” he notes. They considered moving abroad, but Mr. Dell’aquila didn’t want to be told what guns he could and couldn’t own. “We looked at New Zealand. Even in New Zealand, they don’t have great gun rights,” he says.  

In 2011 they moved to Nashville, Tennessee, and acquired the ranch in southern Kentucky, a two-hour drive. A few years later, in 2015, Mr. Dell’aquila decided to boost his support for the NRA. He and Ms. Dell’aquila donated $100,000 and agreed to change their will to leave several million dollars from their estate to the organization, making them Charlton Heston Society Ambassador Members, part of an inner circle of elite donors. 

“Had I known the corruption and graft and everything going on I would never have had anything to do with them,” he says.

Big budget and agenda

In 2018, the NRA reported $360 million in revenue, of which $110 million was contributions from individuals and companies. Another $170 million came from millions of regular members – the exact number is unknown – who pay annual dues starting at $45. The organization also raises money separately for its charitable foundation and political action committee. 

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Participants pull their guns and shoot targets as part of the instruction at a class in firearms use at the Worcester Pistol & Rifle Club in Boylston, Massachusetts.

Some NRA donor dollars are used for firearms training and education. But by far the biggest expenses are political lobbying and public relations, which is how most nonmembers encounter the NRA and its agenda: Since the 1980s, the organization has embedded itself in politics and policy to a degree that virtually no other special-interest group can match. 

The lore surrounding the NRA’s political clout took root after the 1994 midterm elections, in which Democrats lost control of the House for the first time in a generation. Incumbent lawmakers were defeated in large numbers, including many who had supported a ban on assault weapons. Gun policy wasn’t the only factor favoring the Republicans, but the takeaway was clear: Cross the NRA at your peril. 

“The NRA was an unforgiving master,” President Bill Clinton wrote in “My Life,” his 2004 memoir, referring to the midterm defeat. “One strike and you’re out.” 

The mythology about the organization remains strong, though doubts have grown over time about the power of the NRA and its members to reward and punish lawmakers on Election Day. “[The NRA’s] reputation exceeds their actual ability to elect people who wouldn’t otherwise have been elected,” says Dr. Spitzer, who chairs the political science department at the State University of New York at Cortland. “Their bark is worse than their bite.”

Democrats who long avoided gun control as a losing issue have more recently become emboldened: They now trumpet the NRA’s low public-approval ratings and openly raise money from gun control groups, which for the first time outspent the NRA and other gun rights organizations in the 2018 midterms. Demographics also tell a story worrisome to the NRA. Fifty-one percent of households reported having a firearm in 1980, according to the University of Chicago. By 2018 that share had fallen to 35%; for 18-to-34-year-olds it was 30%. 

Josh Edelson/AP/File
March for Our Lives demonstrators rally in support of gun control in San Francisco. The National Rifle Association recently sued the city for designating it a “domestic terrorist organization.”

For Republicans in safe seats, though, the calculus is different. Even as polls show considerable bipartisan support for universal background checks and other restrictions, GOP lawmakers who go soft on gun rights are likely to face primary challenges. “It’s a story about intensity,” says Adam Winkler, a professor of constitutional law at the University of California, Los Angeles. “There’s a lot of support for gun control in America. But the pro-gun rights voters are much more dedicated to this issue.” 

Like many lobbying groups, the NRA often rallies support by stoking fears and invoking dire scenarios. It portrays even the most innocuous gun control measure as a step toward the confiscation of all firearms.

“Our opponents call themselves gun control advocates. They are not. They ought to call themselves what they really are: the vanguard of the disarm America movement,” Mr. North, then-president of the NRA, told a conservative conference in 2018.  

Mr. Dell’aquila broadly shares this Manichaean worldview. He believes an armed citizenry serves as a check against foreign and domestic tyrants, protects people from criminals, and is a fundamental part of American liberty. His answer to issues like school shootings is not to restrict gun sales but to arm teachers. “I don’t see compromise,” he says. “It’s brought up by liberals to get rid of guns or ban guns.” 

How the curtain came down

The NRA’s annual convention, held in the spring, is a social gathering, arms fair, and political powwow wrapped into one. It’s also a window for members into the group’s governance, as overseen by a 76-member board of directors. 

In 2016, the NRA went all in for President Trump and at-risk Republican Senate candidates, spending more than $50 million. In battleground states like Pennsylvania and Ohio, it framed Hillary Clinton and Democratic lawmakers as existential threats to Second Amendment rights. Its record outlay on the election paid political dividends – NRA-opposed legislation was a nonstarter in Washington – but left it increasingly in the red, unable to cover costs. 

Rick Bowmer/AP/File
NRA chief executive Wayne LaPierre holds a rifle at a gun auction in Utah.

Internal gripes about these expenditures began to leak out, including details of Mr. LaPierre’s compensation package, more than $40 million in billings by the NRA’s longtime advertising agency in Oklahoma City, and monthly payments to a law firm that Mr. North, in a letter to the NRA’s general counsel, described as “draining NRA cash at mind-boggling speed.” 

So when NRA members gathered in Indianapolis in April, a tussle over expenses had become a power struggle between Mr. North and Mr. LaPierre, who accused his rival of plotting a coup. By the third morning of the convention, the battle was over: Mr. North was resigning as president, a board member informed a stunned audience.  

Mr. Dell’aquila sat there and thought, that’s it. We’re done here. He wasn’t surprised – he had heard the news at a private donors’ dinner the previous night – but he couldn’t stomach how supine the board was toward Mr. LaPierre amid allegations of fraud and mismanagement.  

He walked out of the convention hall and into a hubbub. “People came up to me and my wife and said, ‘Can you do something?’”

A plan to reform

Let’s write a letter to the board calling for a full investigation, one suggested. Mr. Dell’aquila shook his head. He had read up on how the NRA put down previous revolts and concluded that a resistance campaign had to be done right.  

It wasn’t just the NRA’s lavish salaries and benefits that riled Mr. Dell’aquila and other members. Executives oversaw payments to related parties, including donations by the NRA Foundation to a charity run by Mr. LaPierre’s wife, and NRA executives received compensation from outside vendors.

At the Indianapolis convention, Mr. Dell’aquila says he asked Carolyn Meadows, who replaced Mr. North as president, about the NRA’s expenditures. How can it be ethical, he asked, for NRA executives to own shares in NRA vendors? “She said, ‘That’s how it’s done in D.C.,’” he says. Ms. Meadows denies she said that.

By July, Mr. Dell’aquila was ready to hit back. He announced that until the NRA replaced its leadership, reformed its board, and audited all its contracts, he and other frustrated donors would stop giving money. It was a calculated blow at the group’s wobbly finances that added to the tumult among grassroots members who had taken to pro-gun media to vent about the NRA.  

He also started grading the directors A through F for their oversight of management. Since April, seven directors have resigned from the board. “I have told NRA directors that I can be one of the NRA’s biggest advocates or worse nightmare, and Mr. LaPierre and his leadership team have chosen the latter,” Mr. Dell’aquila wrote to the board in July. 

He says he has commitments from NRA supporters to withhold nearly $165 million, including cash donations and estate giving, in order to effect reforms. 

“I’m not donating another dime to the NRA until Wayne LaPierre and all of his cronies are out of there,” says Randy Luth, a gun industry veteran and NRA donor whose St. Cloud, Minnesota-based company makes accessories for AR-15s. “Nobody is watching the piggy bank. Everyone is getting fat off the hard-earned dollars of NRA members.” 

Mr. Dell’aquila asks members to make their own pledges on his website. At the ranch house, Ms. Dell’aquila pulls up a spreadsheet on her laptop showing the results. More than 1,000 have responded. Each lists a name, membership number, and the amount to be withheld, ranging from $45 to $3 million, along with a comment. “DRAIN THE SWAMP!” wrote one. 

On Aug. 6, Mr. Dell’aquila filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging fraud and misconduct against the NRA, the NRA Foundation, and Mr. LaPierre over their solicitations of his gifts and misuse of funds. He is seeking a class action certification, which would allow other donors to collect from any settlement. In a statement, Ms. Meadows called the suit “a misguided and frivolous pursuit.” 

“David has a huge amount of passion to get some change,” says Mr. Luth. “A lot of people don’t necessarily agree with his methods ... [but] he’s on a mission.”

Groups to take the giant's place 

The firing range behind Mr. Dell’aquila’s house lies over a creek that is dust-dry on a hot September afternoon. He backs up his ATV and loads it with boxes of 9 mm and .45-caliber shells for three handguns. His semi-automatic rifles and collectible guns, including a Colt .45 with a handle made from meteorite – “I’ve never fired it” – are stored at the house in Nashville. 

He drives over the creek and pulls up. “Honey,” he calls back to Marita. “There’s a dead deer here.” A fawn lies by the grass. Mr. Dell’aquila checks for signs of a coyote attack. “It might’ve lost its mother,” he speculates. Rain hasn’t fallen in weeks; the deer may have died of thirst or stress. 

Ann Hermes/Staff
David Dell’aquila fires at a target on the shooting range at his ranch where he and his wife, Marita, practice.

On the range, Mr. Dell’aquila loads a pistol and fires in quick succession at a pair of metal targets 30 yards away, hitting nearly every time. When it comes to firearm safety, he’s a stickler for rules. But cut him loose on the ranch with heavy equipment, and he’s a daredevil. Two years ago, he was using his bulldozer to clear a path when it slid down a steep hill, tipping upside down and nearly crushing him. “I can always tell when something happens,” says Ms. Dell’aquila. He comes home, quiet and subdued. “Then he’ll say, ‘Don’t get mad at me, but ...’” 

He nods. “I don’t have a concept of self-preservation.”

It’s that kind of temerity that could make Mr. Dell’aquila the hunter who delivers a potentially fatal shot to the NRA – and brings down a pro-gun powerhouse ahead of the 2020 election. Both his boycott campaign and civil suit are frontal attacks on a cash-strapped group whose net assets fell last year to $16 million, from $75 million in 2015. The NRA has frozen its pension fund and borrowed against insurance policies and the deed to its Fairfax headquarters. 

“They’re not going to have the money to plow into next year’s elections as they did in 2016,” says Dr. Spitzer. 

Some activists say a shrunken or shuttered NRA may not be a big loss since other advocacy groups can pick up the baton, shorn of the bloat and bombast. “It’s disingenuous for the NRA to say they’re the only game in town,” says Rob Pincus, a firearms trainer and gun rights advocate. “We’re waking up from the illusion that we could just be NRA members and that’s all we need to do” to defend gun rights.

Michael Hammond, the legislative counsel for Gun Owners of America, says its membership has grown from 1.5 million to 2 million over the past year, which he credits to its uncompromising message on gun rights and the NRA’s reputational hit. “People who used to contribute to the NRA are contributing to us,” he says. He prefers that the NRA stays strong, but believes the gun movement is bigger than a single group.

Mr. Dell’aquila has another trick up his sleeve: He’s working with Mr. Pincus to organize a Second Amendment rally on Nov. 2 in Washington, D.C., an end run around the NRA’s claim to speak for all gun owners. “Ultimately,” he says, “the people will have the final say.”

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2. Why Poland’s illiberal ruling party is cruising toward reelection

From the outside, Poland has seemed to be going down an illiberal path like that of Hungary. But many Poles have welcomed the ruling party’s policies, and it appears set to win Sunday’s election.

Peter
Dominique Soguel
Ewa Szulc, a grocery store manager in Sierakowice, Poland, supports the Law and Justice party. She says, "They want to change the country and implement fairness. They will make the country better."

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Poland’s parliamentary elections on Sunday could prove the most defining for the nation since the collapse of communism in 1989. Liberal critics accuse the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) government of amassing dictatorial powers by introducing reforms that undermine democracy and the rule of law.

But while there are concerns over creeping authoritarianism in Brussels and liberal circles in Warsaw, the reality is PiS has gained in popularity thanks to a mix of rising patriotism, economic growth, and generous social spending. While some would be concerned if the government's fights with Brussels led to a break, the European Union's concerns about Poland are not ones that much of the public shares.

“Life has been better since they are in power,” says Maria Żegulska, a pensioner from Gniezno. “Young people receive money for children, pensioners will get an additional [13th month of] pension. The country is going in the right direction. ... [PiS] creates jobs here in Poland so that people don’t have to work abroad.”

PiS is still divisive. Michał Ruta, an entrepreneur in Poznań, does not recognize himself in any of the opposition parties, but refuses to vote for PiS. “I don’t like their confrontational rhetoric,” he says.

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1. Why Poland’s illiberal ruling party is cruising toward reelection

Since coming to power in 2015, Poland’s Law and Justice (PiS) party has seized state institutions, crossed swords with the European Union on issues from migration to environmental policy, and introduced controversial judiciary reforms.

And while Poland’s civil society and media landscape remain relatively diverse and resilient, several PiS policies appear to take direct inspiration from Hungary, the lighthouse for “illiberal democracy” in Europe.

Which is why many Western observers consider the PiS's rule – likely to be extended in elections this weekend – a major setback for liberal democratic values.

Inside Poland, however, PiS enjoys broad popularity – reflecting a view that the party keeps its campaign promises and truly cares for ordinary people.

Maria Żegulska, a pensioner from Gniezno, Poland’s former capital, has supported other parties in the past but is now fully convinced that PiS is the best option – even if she did have some concerns over the nature of judicial reforms.

“Life has been better since they are in power,” she says. “Young people receive money for children, pensioners will get an additional [13th month of] pension. The country is going in the right direction. ... [PiS] creates jobs here in Poland so that people don’t have to work abroad.”

Poland’s parliamentary elections Sunday could prove the most defining for the nation since the collapse of communism in 1989. Liberal critics accuse the government of amassing dictatorial powers by introducing reforms that undermine democracy and the rule of law.

But while there are concerns in Brussels and liberal circles in Warsaw over creeping authoritarianism, the reality is PiS has gained in popularity thanks to a mix of rising patriotism, economic growth, and generous social spending. The upcoming vote could determine how lasting the change to Poland’s political posture will be.

“It is a fundamentally important election in Poland because the way and direction which was chosen by [PiS party leader Jarosław Kaczyński] is a direction towards constructing a mono-party system with some democratic features,” says Polish sociologist Ireneusz Krzemiński, “but [also] autocratic, completely destroying division of powers in the state, and with a very important element of ideology.”

Popular and populist

In the past years, Poland – a member of NATO, Germany’s largest trading partner, and the sixth largest economy of the European Union – has in some respects gone from Europe’s poster child to its problem child.

Adam Bodnar, the Polish commissioner for human rights, says PiS has incrementally undermined democracy, starting with the 2015 constitutional court crisis and the dismantling of judicial review of legislation, and continuing with reforms to the prosecutor’s office, secret services, public media, and civil service.

“All those laws created much more possibility for the ruling party to influence things,” says Mr. Bodnar, who was appointed to his post when the opposition was in power. “To use government propaganda in public media, to control what is happening in the public prosecutor’s office, to discipline prosecutors, to degrade those who are not obeying orders.”

The government has reduced the freedom of state institutions slice by slice, he says. The fight over judicial independence is still being fought: On Thursday, the European Commission referred Poland to the European Court of Justice over its new disciplinary proceedings for Polish judges.

“Changes made by the current government were deep and had constitutional character,” says Adam Gendźwiłł, a political science professor at Warsaw University. “If the next government is about to make similar changes, and in the same atmosphere of conflict, it could seal a very deep division in Polish society, which would be difficult to overcome.”

But with a booming economy and record low unemployment, few voters share these concerns. The No. 1 issue for the average Polish voter is health care, followed by social programs and education. An independent judiciary comes fourth. Even then, a third of Poles see PiS as the best guarantor of the rule of law.

The flagship of PiS policy is the “Family 500+” program, a child subsidy, which was recently expanded. Courting voters, PiS also raised the minimum wage, introduced free medicine for those over the age of 75, and waived the income tax for young adults (under the age of 26). It has promised to pave new roads and boost entrepreneurs.

Tamara Fuszpaniak, a teacher from Gniezno, is part of the minority unmoved by such pledges. “PiS clearly violates the constitution, but for many people this is not important,” she says. “People vote for this party because it will give them money. PiS is targeting people who are waiting for state aid.”

The latest polls show that support for PiS grew from 37% in 2015 to about 46% now. That gives it a comfortable lead over its opponents but not the large majority needed to secure the legislative perks of a supermajority. The Civic Platform Coalition is projected to garner between a fifth and a quarter of the vote. Left-wing and far-right parties also have shots at entering parliament. 

Poles, divided

One’s position on PiS has become the most divisive issue in Polish society. Issues both social – among them the right to abortion and the standing of the LGBT community – and economic play into that.

Just west of Gniezno lies the city of Poznań, where PiS suffers some of its lowest popularity in the country. Michał Ruta, an entrepreneur who makes a living selling souvenirs there, does not recognize himself in any of the opposition parties. But he still refuses to vote for PiS. “I don’t like their confrontational rhetoric that divides Poles,” he says.

He notes that Poland T-shirts no longer sell as much because they come across as aggressively nationalistic, rather than patriotic. “Poland is already divided in two parts, and I don’t know who can glue it together again.”

Still, PiS is expanding its base. Its traditional area of influence is the conservative southeast, but in EU elections in May, a doubling of the turnout compared with the 2014 vote proved its capacity to mobilize voters in rural areas and snatch voters from other parties both in the north and west.

“This march of PiS to the west is very visible,” says Dr. Gendźwiłł, “In the cities, PiS has reached the glass ceiling; it is difficult for them to break through there.”

“These elections are a plebiscite for the ruling party,” says Marcin Palade, a sociologist specialized in electoral geography. “The key question is the turnout. A higher turnout should be in favor of PiS.”

Europe's appeal

One thing Poles on both sides of the PiS divide tend to agree on is the value of being part of the European Union. While the ruling party’s fight with Brussels has not been a significant political issue for voters, some Poles say they are ready to abandon the party if membership in the European Union became at risk, especially given the costs that a messy Brexit is revealing.

The EU has been a major benefactor to Poland. The northern village of Sierakowice has one of the highest birth rates in the nation and voted against joining the European Union in 2003. But EU funding has paid for better roads, sewage, playgrounds, a cultural center and – crucially – the renovation of the old wooden church steeple.

Emilia Reclaf, a retired school teacher, says EU membership brought progress. “It has been very good for my kids,” she says. “The infrastructure has improved, you can travel freely, you have access to the world. You can travel without visas and so on to the Western world.”

Still, skeptics remain. Saleswoman Dorota Kwidzińska is among those who voted against the EU. A beneficiary of the 500+ program and a devout Christian, she views the European Union through the same lens as the ruling party – a problematic champion of LGBTQ rights. PiS, on the other hand, protects the traditional family values that she holds dear. “PiS is different because it is taking care of ordinary people,” she says.

The PiS campaign slogan this round is a simple “Good time for Poland.” At the EU elections in May, PiS campaigned with the slogan “Poland, heart of Europe” – a word choice that acknowledged the pro-EU mood but also sought to reassure Euroskeptics that change is possible from within. For Poles, that’s probably as anti-Europe as the party can get.

“Law and Justice will not withdraw Poland from the EU,” says Ms. Reclaf. “They are not suicidal.”

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Climate realities

An occasional series

3. Sea levels are rising, so why is coastal construction?

It’s no coincidence that most humans live within about 125 miles of seacoasts, where beauty and economic opportunity often intersect. That allure can create challenges when changing environmental risks enter the picture. This story is part of an occasional Monitor series on “Climate Realities.”

Peter

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Bill Cobau, a retired college professor, has spent 30 years watching the tides rise higher and higher in Charleston, South Carolina. One flood last year ruined his floor.

Yet coastal development, not retreat from rising sea levels, is still ascendant here and in other communities along America’s southeastern coast. The pattern is fueled by money, by age-old human affinity for “blue spaces,” and by government policies such as flood insurance that can subsidize risky residences.

Now it’s an uneven real estate market. Many at-risk homes are losing value even as others are snapped up. One home near Mr. Cobau’s is being demolished due to frequent flooding. Another just sold for $1 million. Other owners are seeking approval to elevate their homes.

“The majority of people’s retirement savings is the equity in their house,” says Ryan Lewis, a University of Colorado sea level expert. “And if you think about the timeline of [sea level rise] and people’s savings, those things are converging.” 

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Sea levels are rising, so why is coastal construction?

As she recalls the flood waters rising once again last month around her Charleston, South Carolina, home, Elizabeth Cooper says she can still hear her mom’s voice on the phone from Iowa.

The home here in Harleston Village – a kind of Colonial-era suburb of mansions and leaning freedmen’s shacks – has seen a slow-motion catastrophe unfold, with six floods in as many years from rain events and hurricanes.

“My mom told me on the phone, ‘Come back to Iowa, we’ll have a beach here soon!’ Ha-ha, right?” says Ms. Cooper, who gave no thoughts to flooding when she bought her house 35 years ago.

To be sure, she says, property values are holding steady for the moment, given the charm of the neighborhood and magnetic pull of the ocean lapping against the city’s world-class waterfront.

But because comedy hints at truth, mom’s joke hit a nerve.

In some ways, the roughly one-foot rise of the Charleston high tide over the past century symbolizes a slow-rolling, real estate emergency that extends far beyond South Carolina.

Yet land use practices aren’t catching up. Here and in other communities along America’s southeastern coast, the dominant pattern remains coastal development and the rebuilding of damaged dwellings, not an orderly retreat from rising sea levels.

The trend is fueled by age-old human affinity for “blue spaces,” and by government policies that experts say amount to subsidies for risky residences.

“Coastal ... real estate development is continuing to be faster than inland, which means we are continuing to put ourselves at risk,” says Susan Wachter, a real estate professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.

About 49 million U.S. homes are within a few hundred feet of a rising coastline. Many houses near the beach are still appreciating faster than ones further inland, despite the prospect of wetter, slower-moving storms and higher water levels, which climate scientists associate with warming oceans. Places like Hilton Head Island could lose nearly half of its livable land in the next 80 years.

“There is over $1 trillion worth of infrastructure within 700 feet of the coast,” says A.R. Siders, a Harvard University social scientist who studies relocation as a solution to climate change. “Even if one-tenth of those people needed to relocate, we are talking about orders of magnitude we have never [seen] before.”

Fast-growing coastal communities 

Myrtle Beach, Charleston, Beaufort, and Hilton Head are some of the fastest-growing cities in the region – and also the most vulnerable. The Lowcountry Hazards Center at the College of Charleston says that in 50 years the city will see 15% of properties affected by flooding each year, compared to 1% today.

Yet Charleston County allowed the building of 761 new homes in vulnerable areas over the past decade. A push to annex low-lying marsh islands like Paradise Island and Cat Island may further add to the region’s development – and tax base.

“In terms of price in South Carolina, the economy is doing very well – so is Georgia and North Carolina – and you have a lot of retirees moving into that area,” says Michael Ferlez, an analyst with Moody’s Analytics. “There’s a limited housing stock, construction hasn’t kept pace with it, and it’s also more affordable than a lot of major sort of retiree havens in Florida and the Gulf area. There may not be a lot of room – right now they are building on tiny little bits of land.”

Some signs already point to economic challenges ahead. Plenty of properties are declining in value. In fact, South Carolina is the only state on the Atlantic Seaboard to not show some recent contraction in coastal real estate values. In the 17 coastal states between Maine and Texas, nearly $16 billion has been shaved off land-value appreciation since 2005 by floods and looming sea level rise, according to estimates by First Street Foundation in New York.

Even here in Charleston County, which stretches from the 18th-century downtown to sleepy marsh islands and beach towns, homeowners have lost $266 million in potential value gains. 

A question for government

This presents an increasingly urgent conundrum for some 130 million Americans – up 10 million from 2010 – who live in coastal counties, off the beach, behind a levee, or up a creek.

Buyers are becoming more finicky. Just a few miles from Charleston’s hot real estate market, Seabrook Island has seen anemic, 1% year-over-year appreciation. Call it climate gentrification: Better protected – or higher elevation – homes are gaining value while flood-prone homes are selling at discounts that can reach 15% or more.

“The majority of people’s retirement savings is the equity in their house, and if you think about the timeline of [sea level rise] and people’s savings, those things are converging,” says Ryan Lewis, a finance professor at the University of Colorado and co-author of a 2019 study, “Disaster on the Horizon: The price effect of sea level rise.”

Meanwhile, pressure is rising on Congress to address subsidies for those who insist on water views. Uncle Sam currently guarantees $645 billion worth of flood-vulnerable property.

“The question is, how much government treasure are we prepared to sacrifice?” says George Caruso, a veteran developer of coastal rental properties who is now a development consultant in Washington. “And where’s the point at which owners or tenants have to have [more] skin in the game? Because the reality is, there is a ferocious demand for stuff near or on the water.”

In some cases, the new economic realities are contributing to better land-use planning – including fewer approvals for people to build on dunes. In other cases, clever architecture eases buyer qualms.

“Buildings are sitting higher, there are more blow-out walls, all the important and expensive systems are high up,” says Mr. Caruso. “It’s quiet. It’s not obvious. You don’t want to panic residents. But if you’re smart, you’re doing it.”

Dying azaleas

Back in Harleston Village, Bill Cobau, a retired college professor, has spent 30 years watching the tides rise higher and higher against The Battery, the city’s historic bulwark.

His porch is pitched to shake off the voluminous rain known to fall here. But in the past year, his favorite azaleas have died from saltwater inundation from multiple floods. One ruined the floor of his old freedmen’s cottage, costing him $4,500.

The neighborhood around him is a snapshot of a haywire market.

Not far from his house, one homeowner opted for demolition after no buyer stepped forward for her frequently flooded house. But the house next to Mr. Cobau’s cottage just sold for $1 million.

“I think what is driving the market, though, are people with $300,000 to spend on a house who still feel comfortable saying, ‘What the heck? Let’s roll the dice,’” says Mr. Cobau.

But broader concern is also taking hold, says Ms. Cooper, the 35-year resident. Storm protections are a top mayoral election issue. The city is budgeting to raise the level of The Battery. Storm drain cleaning has gone from laissez-faire to dogged.

The city has long frowned on raising homes, claiming it will destroy the architectural charm. Such niceties now seem quaint. Today, nearly 100 homes are on the waiting list for an elevation waiver, including the one next to Mr. Cobau’s house.

“Everybody is suddenly concerned,” says Ms. Cooper. “We are desperately looking for the fixes that are going to keep us here.”

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4. Migrants left home for a reason. Returning is a struggle.

Reintegration programs can help would-be migrants get back on their feet if they decide to come back home. But they also serve as a test: What does it take to keep more citizens from wanting to leave in the first place?

Peter

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A few years ago, Olanipekun “Tope” Adenike was a business student at Nigeria’s National Open University, struggling to pay tuition. Like thousands of other Nigerians, she decided the best chance of getting ahead lay abroad, and left in hopes of earning enough to continue her education.

But her journey stopped in Libya, where abuse of migrants is widespread. With few choices, Ms. Adenike became one of the 40,000 migrants international agencies have flown back to their home countries from Libya. After arriving, she recalls officials telling returnees, “Now that you’re back to your fatherland we will help you.”

But the small store she runs today, selling sardines, tins of milk, and soft drinks, was made possible by a small grant from international agencies – not her own government, which she says has only given her about $14. 

Nigeria has pledged to welcome returnees, and to address the root causes of migration so fewer people set out to begin with. But critics say much of the progress, however limited, is thanks to foreign-funded programs – complicating the road to long-term rehabilitation and growth.  

“What the [International Organization for Migration] and EU are doing is temporary. ... Who takes it up from there?” says Osita Osemene, whose nonprofit aims to educate Nigerians about the dangers of irregular migration.

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Migrants left home for a reason. Returning is a struggle.

A former political office is an unlikely location for a small convenience store, but it works for Olanipekun “Tope” Adenike. When offering directions to her business, she simply tells people to “come to the PDP shop.” 

The green awning with the People’s Democratic Party logo scrawled in white sits on a narrow street across from looming billboards of Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, promising progress and change. 

But every year, many Nigerians decide their best chance to find progress and change is in another country. They set out across the Sahara toward Libya and then Europe, and many don’t make it. This year alone, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) has repatriated more than 340 Nigerians from Libya, and Ms. Adenike is one of the many returnees who arrived early last year. Since 2015, more than 40,000 migrants have been returned to their home countries from Libya, where abuse of migrants is widespread.

The Nigerian government facilitated the return, with a promise to reintegrate returnees and create opportunities so fewer Nigerians seek greener pastures abroad. Ms. Adenike says that when she arrived, she was taken back to her home state of Ogun, where officials welcomed her. “They told us that now that you’re back to your fatherland we will help you and if you want to continue with your studies or you want to start a business, we are ready to finance it.” 

But today, Ms. Adenike says, all she has received is 5,000 naira ($14) they gave her to get home.

“They are the ones that said we should come home, but yet they have nothing to offer us,” she says, as the generator powering her store hums loudly in the background.

This shop in the southwestern town of Sagamu, where she now sells sardines, tins of milk, and soft drinks, was made possible by a small grant from international agencies. Several similar programs for returnee rehabilitation and training have been launched by partnerships between the IOM, the Nigerian government, and the European Union’s Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, which was set up in 2015 during the height of the Mediterranean migration crisis.

The trust fund allocated more than €120 million ($132 million) to Nigeria for projects meant to address the root causes of irregular migration, from job creation to conflict prevention, and keep more would-be migrants at home. Critics have argued the fund needs more transparency to ensure enough funds are spent on development, rather than border security. Others argue the international assistance is vital, but only a short-term lift – masking some home countries’ challenges reintegrating their returnees.

“What the IOM and EU are doing is temporary. ... Who takes it up from there?” says Osita Osemene, the executive director of the Patriotic Citizens Initiative, a nonprofit organization that aims to educate Nigerians about the dangers of irregular migration. “The long-term solution is not feasible because the government is not fully involved. They have not been able to take ownership of the problem.”

Flood of requests

The EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration was expected to run for three years, and initially earmarked to provide assistance to roughly 4,000 Nigerian returnees. But the immediate need in Nigeria was overwhelming. 

“During the first few months of the project, we already surpassed the initial target,” says Saskia Kok, a migrant protection and assistance officer at the IOM office in Lagos. 

Between November and December of 2017, the agency fielded requests for assistance from close to 5,000 returnees, Ms. Kok says. In 2018, Britain pledged to extend reintegration and rehabilitation assistance to 1,700 returnees through a partnership with the IOM and Nigerian government.

Ms. Adenike was one of them. Before leaving for Libya, she studied business at the National Open University, but could barely afford tuition; she had hoped to find work to finance her education. After returning home, she struggled to find a full-time job without a degree, and finally secured one teaching Yoruba language and social science to first grade students. But the position lasted for only three months because the school was unable to pay her, she says.

So when IOM called to offer assistance starting a business, she was overjoyed. “By then I had already lost my hope,” she recalls. 

Struggle stemming the flow

In late 2017, governments and nongovernmental organizations around the world were outraged after CNN reports appeared to confirm many African migrants, including Nigerians, were being sold as slaves in Libya. The viral video elicited vows from President Buhari to reduce the number of Nigerians who felt the need to leave the country, by strengthening the economy and increasing access to health care and education. 

In the country’s 2019 budget, the government allocated 100 billion naira ($280 million) to zonal intervention projects, which include reintegration efforts for returnees; Edo state, in the south, has offered monthly stipends for returnees. Nigerian papers have reported corruption and mismanagement of funds for some development projects, however. For example, Innocent Duru, a journalist who has covered the increase in Nigerians migrating to Libya for the newspaper The Nation, uncovered a case of local leaders mismanaging funds allocated to create agricultural training programs for returnees. 

Meanwhile, emigration continues. Many cite Nigeria’s growing unemployment rate as a reason for their departure. In 2018, people without work reached 23.1%, up from 18.1% the year before. 

If returnees continue to come back to Nigeria without stronger assistance, Mr. Duru says, many will turn to crime or simply leave Nigeria again – if not for Libya, then somewhere else. “They say it’s all suffering here, that they don’t have a future here.” 

This August, President Buhari established the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management, and Social Development, which will coordinate rehabilitation and reintegration efforts. Its creation is “a strong indication of the seriousness with which the Nigerian government regards issues of humanitarian intervention,” says Tolu Ogunlesi, the special assistant to President Buhari on digital and new media. He notes that the new minister was formerly in charge of the National Commission for Refugees, Migrants, and Internally Displaced Persons.

Choices ahead

Since her return, Ms. Adenike has founded a local organization she calls ROSE – Returnees Organization of Surviving Emigrants – to educate others about the dangers of irregular migration.

“I wish I was made aware, I would not have fallen into the road of Libya,” she says. But despite her crusade, Ms. Adenike’s thoughts about leaving the country are nuanced. 

She has always wanted to own a supermarket and feels the IOM funding has set her on a path to do so, she says, as her customers chat, the bright afternoon sun reflecting off her red-sequined blouse. 

Still, if she could leave Nigeria to complete her education, she would. And most important, she says, there is so much left for her to see. “I still want to learn more, I still want to know what is going on outside of Nigeria.”

“If I see the opportunity to travel out of Nigeria to a better country that is not Libya,” she adds, “I will be joyful and happy to go.”

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Television

5. Twists abound in new TV shows. Will they reel in viewers?

More streaming services launching this fall means more small screen program options. How do shows from across the science fiction and fantasy genres fare?  

Peter
Kimberley French/The CW/AP
Ruby Rose stars as Kate Kane/Batwoman in the new series on The CW network. It is one of several superhero offerings this fall.

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This fall’s new science fiction and fantasy shows face an extra degree of difficulty. That’s because they don’t just offer the new characters and situations common to all genres. They also have to present new worlds, sometimes with entirely new sets of rules. That’s a major part of their appeal – experiencing these shows challenges not just interpersonal understanding, but environmental and rational understanding as well.

Quite a few of the programs adopt the puzzle-box approach. ABC’s “Emergence,” borrowing liberally from “Stranger Things” on Netflix, includes an intriguing plot about a plane crash survivor’s unusual abilities and shadowy past. The less compelling (and more violent) “Evil” is a CBS offering about church-hired paranormal investigators. 

The CW and HBO are taking advantage of the golden age of the superhero genre with “Batwoman” and “Watchmen,” respectively. “Watchmen,” debuting Oct. 20, promises to take the weighty themes of the original 1980s comic and bring them forward 34 years, into a world that deviates radically from our own but still resonates on issues of white supremacy and authoritarianism. The show’s creator has said he was inspired by the 1921 Tulsa race massacre, which is back in the news this week as scientists search for evidence of a mass grave. 

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Twists abound in new TV shows. Will they reel in viewers?

Two investigators try to find the motive for murder. A small-town sheriff takes in an orphan with a shadowy past. A young woman tries to get over heartache. And, seeking to save a former love, an avenger puts on a cowl and takes to the night.

Each of these new fall shows leans heavily on familiar tropes, but adds a twist: The investigators suspect the murderer could be a demon. (Yes, the evil kind, with horns.) Both the small-town sheriff and the caped crusader are women. The heartbroken young woman, terrified of becoming a cat lady, meets an actual cat-headed lady. (This one drives a bus in Los Angeles.)

This fall’s new science fiction and fantasy offerings face an extra degree of difficulty. That’s because they don’t just offer the new characters and situations common to all genres. They also have to present new worlds, sometimes with entirely new sets of rules. That’s a major part of their appeal – experiencing these new shows challenges not just interpersonal understanding, but environmental and rational understanding as well.

Quite a few shows adopt the puzzle-box approach this fall. “Emergence,” on ABC, borrows liberally from Netflix’s “Stranger Things”: An apparently superpowered girl with a shadowy past is being pursued by the government, but comes under the protection of a small-town sheriff. Allison Tolman as Sheriff Jo Evans and Alexa Swinton as Piper, the mysterious girl, are both compelling. The always good Donald Faison and Clancy Brown support as Jo’s ex-husband and father, respectively.

CBS’s “Evil,” on the other hand, takes a more “X-Files” approach, as a church-backed team of paranormal researchers tries to determine whether strange phenomena are scientifically explainable or demonically driven. The contrast between the two shows demonstrates the importance of getting world-building right. “Evil” (rated TV-14) gives away the game early by making it all too clear (via villains who are either cartoonishly or violently malevolent) that the demonic answer was the right one – and loses a lot of energy. Made by the team behind “The Good Wife,” “Evil” aspires to explore the motivations of morality and immorality, but three episodes in, it mostly muddles about with implausible “X-Files”-like questions like “ghost or leaky gasket?” which even charismatic star Mike Colter can’t overcome. “Emergence” (TV-PG), meanwhile, keeps the mystery going. There’s something odd happening, but the puzzle is laid out slowly – and that keeps you coming back. (One throwback note: Both programs feature actors who are alumni of the master puzzle-box show, “Lost.”) 

Ali Goldstein/Hulu
Kat Dennings and Connor Hines star in the Hulu show "Dollface," which has a reality-bending twist.

The superhero genre is experiencing a golden age – on the big and small screen – right now. It’s no wonder. At its simplest level, it takes little to move a real-world drama into a comic book world: Just take a crime drama and add higher ambitions and stylized costumes to the main characters. That’s essentially what The CW has done with its latest addition to its supershow lineup: “Batwoman” (TV-14).

It’s early days yet in the show. But the portrayal has been faithful to the comic. Kate Kane – Batwoman’s alter ego played by a hard-nosed Ruby Rose – is a onetime military academy student, dishonorably discharged due to her intimate relationship with classmate Sophie Moore. After kicking about testing her limits à la her cousin, Bruce Wayne, she returns to Gotham City. And when Sophie is kidnapped, Kate takes up the mantle Batman mysteriously abandoned three years prior to save her.

With a little more reworking of the laws of the world to allow for superbeings, you can go even further. That’s what HBO is doing with its prestige series “Watchmen” (TV-MA), a sequel to the classic 1980s comic of the same name. “Watchmen,” debuting Oct. 20, promises to take the weighty themes of the original and bring them forward 34 years, into a world that deviates radically from our own but still resonates on issues of white supremacy and authoritarianism. The creator of the show has said he was inspired by the 1921 Tulsa race massacre, which is back in the news this week as scientists search for evidence of a mass grave. The cast includes Oscar winners Regina King and Jeremy Irons.  

Like “Game of Thrones,” this year’s most ambitious world-building show draws heavily from work done in another medium. In November, the new streaming service Disney+ will roll out the first “Star Wars” live-action series, set after “Return of the Jedi.” A kind of bounty-hunter Western, “The Mandalorian” is set to blaze new trails in the “Star Wars” universe.

And for those who like fantasy without ever leaving the real world, there is the quirky, surrealist “Dollface” (TV-MA), also available in November. Hulu’s offering is a kind of L.A.-based “Sex and the City” with a reality-bending twist. The main story arc is that Jules (Kat Dennings), recently dumped by her boyfriend, must reconnect with female friends. Over the episodes, her dilemmas are often shown as real-life metaphors: say, a cat-headed lady driving her in a bus to meet her lost acquaintances, or a chasm opening between fighting friends. It’s a world where exposition is made manifest.

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The Monitor's View

Why a peace prize befits Ethiopia’s leader

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When Nelson Mandela won the Nobel Peace Prize, much of the world knew not only of his achievement – creating a democratic and “rainbow” nation in South Africa – but how he did it. Now another African leader, Abiy Ahmed, the prime minister of Ethiopia, has won the prize. His achievements and his peacemaking methods are much less known. Yet they should certainly resonate as much as Mandela’s.

The 2019 prize was given to Mr. Abiy mainly for his leadership in ending a 20-year conflict between his country and neighboring Eritrea. He was also praised for liberating Ethiopia itself from decades of harsh rule.

After becoming prime minister, he would often begin talks to Ethiopians with this line: “Today, if you all decide, if you commit to healing, then we as Ethiopia will write a new story.”  When an emergency arises, he comforts with phrases like “love always wins.” He sees Ethiopian identity not as a suppression of tribal or religious differences but as a beautiful blending of positive traits of each group.

With Mandela-like wisdom, Mr. Abiy can become known for this bit of advice: “Only peace can lead to peace.”

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Why a peace prize befits Ethiopia’s leader

When Nelson Mandela won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993, much of the world knew not only of his achievement – creating a democratic and “rainbow” nation in South Africa – but how he did it. He rejected bitterness and hatred. He embraced his captors. He assumed whites were willing to treat blacks as equal. He replaced racial hate with nonracial kindness. Like a wise shepherd, he proclaimed, “No one is free until the last one is free.”

“You can never have an impact on society if you have not changed yourself,” he famously said.

Now another African leader, Abiy Ahmed, the prime minister of Ethiopia, has won the Nobel Peace Prize. His achievements and his peacemaking methods are much less known. Yet they should certainly resonate as much as Mandela’s.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the 2019 prize to Mr. Abiy mainly for his leadership in ending a 20-year conflict between his country and neighboring Eritrea. In a dramatic gesture soon after taking office last year, he handed over disputed lands to Eritrea. The generous concession led to an instant warming of frozen bilateral ties left over by a war that had killed more than 70,000 and divided families.

He was also praised for liberating Ethiopia itself from decades of harsh rule, freeing political prisoners and setting Africa’s second most populous nation on a path to democracy.

Yet little was said by the Nobel Committee of his methods which, nonetheless, are still at work in his peacemaking efforts in other parts of Africa, such as Sudan.

Just by biography alone, Mr. Abiy seems tailored to reconcile people.

He is the youngest leader in a continent with the youngest demographic. After serving in the military, he earned a doctorate in peace studies, having seen the aftermath of Rwanda’s genocide as a United Nations peacekeeper in 1995.

In a country coping with complex ethnic and religious differences, his lineage is unique. He has a Muslim father from Ethiopia’s largest tribe, the Oromo, and a Christian mother from the second largest tribe, the Amhara.

His doctoral thesis focused on how peace was restored between Muslims and Christians in Jimma Zone after a breakout of violence. He wrote of how respected Muslim and Christian leaders, representing faiths of peace, came together to reknit social bonds. They encouraged grassroots dialogue and restored shared norms and the joint social life of the two groups, such as celebrating each other’s religious holidays. To end hundreds of personal disputes, local elders relied on jarsummaa, a traditional practice of conflict resolution.

“The single most important area of focus has been the work on the attitude of community members,” Mr. Abiy wrote.

After becoming prime minister, he would often begin talks to Ethiopians with this line: “Today, if you all decide, if you commit to healing, then we as Ethiopia will write a new story.” He invites audiences to soar like an eagle over stormy clouds to see a bright future. When an emergency arises, he comforts with phrases like “love always wins.”

He also uses an Amharic word, medemer, which is associated with mathematics and means “to be added to one another.” He sees Ethiopian identity not as a suppression of tribal or religious differences but as a beautiful blending of positive traits of each group.

The war with Eritrea, in which he lost a cousin, had a profound effect on him. According to associates, he developed an inner harmony and humility. Last year, when he traveled to Eritrea’s capital to seal a peace deal with President Isaias Afwerki, the two men looked like old friends. With Mandela-like wisdom, Mr. Abiy can become known for this bit of advice: “Only peace can lead to peace.”

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A Christian Science Perspective

About this feature

Each weekday, the Monitor includes one clearly labeled religious article offering spiritual insight on contemporary issues, including the news. The publication – in its various forms – is produced for anyone who cares about the progress of the human endeavor around the world and seeks news reported with compassion, intelligence, and an essentially constructive lens. For many, that caring has religious roots. For many, it does not. The Monitor has always embraced both audiences. The Monitor is owned by a church – The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston – whose founder was concerned with both the state of the world and the quality of available news.

‘Adulting’ without the stress

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Too often it seems as if life – at any age – is little more than a collection of tasks that need to be performed, an inevitable “daily grind.” But as a young dad and husband with a full-time career found, being more conscious of the presence of God, good, replaces stress with joy and makes one’s path forward clearer.

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‘Adulting’ without the stress

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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I join countless other young adults who say: Adulting can be hard! The definition, “the practice of behaving in a way characteristic of a responsible adult, especially the accomplishment of mundane but necessary tasks” (lexico.com), hints at a reason why many young adults struggle with or even resent it. It’s a view of things that essentially assumes that life is mostly made up of mundaneness, hopefully punctuated with some fun weekends and vacations.

Is it really irrevocably true that life – at any age – is nothing more than a collection of tasks that need to be performed? It certainly may seem like it; people talk about the “daily grind” a lot. But my study and practice of Christian Science has convinced me that the truth is something deeper.

When we’re casting all around, trying to figure out what we need to do next, I’ve found what’s most helpful is to be more conscious of the presence of God. Mary Baker Eddy, who started this newspaper and discovered Christian Science, has a fascinating and helpful definition of the word “day” in her primary book, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures.” She states that during God’s day, “The objects of time and sense disappear in the illumination of spiritual understanding, and Mind measures time according to the good that is unfolded” (p. 584).

This helps me see that instead of looking at life as a linear timeline of events and circumstances, with our existence essentially defined by all these past and future events, we have the right to just be present, right where we are. That is, to actively watch how God’s limitless goodness is unfolding and being expressed in us, the spiritual expression of the Divine. To simply see and be good, to live our true nature as God’s children, instead of feeling overwhelmed with all of life’s demands.

As a husband and dad with a full-time career, I’ve found this invaluable!

Now, granted, this may seem like a difficult task depending on the situation. But the joy of letting each day be God’s day means that it’s not on us individually to force good to happen, or to try to make up something good. We can follow the example given in the Bible, in the very different circumstances of facing an enemy, when the Israelites were promised, “You will not have to fight this battle. Just stand there and watch the Lord save you” (II Chronicles 20:17, Easy-to-Read Version).

The context for this promise is, briefly, that the Israelites were under threat and didn’t know what to do; after this promise, God assured them that in the coming days they would be able to accomplish everything they needed to do, by the power of God. And so it proved.

This wouldn’t have been accomplished by rushing around in a panic or trying to force a solution into existence. The need is to stand still – to mentally just be still – and be receptive to the activity of God, good. And then to be humble enough to let God’s goodness, rather than fear or human will or habit, light our path forward.

Our identity is more than a series of tasks we’re trying to accomplish. We are all included in the perfect love that God has always had for all His loved children, wholly the expression of God’s goodness. Even in the midst of fear, stress, or even pain, we can take advantage of every opportunity to witness, and evidence, how we are embraced in this divine goodness at each moment. When we do this, we find that fear, stress, and pain subside, and are healed, as our way becomes clearer and more harmonious, step by step.

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Viewfinder

‘A truly amazing place to be a musk ox’

Ann Hermes/Staff
It’s hard to tell the difference between Gouda and Muenster. Not the cheeses, mind you, but the two musk ox calves born on a farm in rural Alaska this April. Gouda, seen facing right, and Muenster facing left are part of the largest captive herd of musk oxen in the world. The farm keeps the herd as wild as possible as it harvests the animals’ wool. While the musk oxen aren’t fully domesticated, their personalities are easy to spot. “They can be shy, they can be brats, but they’re all curious,” says the farm’s executive director, Mark Austin. “Like people, some have insecurities, and they all have names. This is a truly amazing place to be a musk ox.” - Ann Hermes/Staff
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris. )
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In Our Next Issue

( October 15th, 2019 )

Thanks for joining us today. Monday is a federal holiday in the United States, so we won’t be publishing a full Daily. But stay tuned for a special edition that day highlighting some of the Monitor’s recent coverage of indigenous peoples.

Monitor Daily Podcast

October 11, 2019
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2019
October
11
Friday

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