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Rethink the News

Perspective matters.

Reducing news to hard lines and side-taking leaves a lot of the story untold. Progress comes from challenging what we hear and considering different views.

2018
December
17
Monday

This time of year is known as a season of light, and with good reason. You see it in so many small encounters: The man who stops to chat with a homeless man about last night’s game. The woman who tucks money into a Salvation Army bucket – and then adds more with a smile. Neighbors who welcome a newcomer with a group dinner.

Without fail, the individuals who give of their time or heart note how much more they receive.

Take Moses Elder, a homeless man in Phoenix who assisted an anonymous businessman in his holiday practice of handing out $100 bills to strangers. “Today we changed a lot of people’s lives. But I believe my life was changed the most.”

Or Kari Suhadolnik, who joined others in Ohio’s Stow-Munroe Falls school district to clear the lunch debts of 515 low-income students. She is energized. “It just warmed my heart,” she says.

Or Wade Bender. He speaks of men at a correctional facility in Gunnison, Utah, who paint cheerful faces on more than 100,000 wooden toy cars that volunteers at Tiny Tim’s Foundation for Kids make for children before Christmas. “They’ll tell us, ‘This is the first time I’ve done something for somebody else. Thank you.’ ” 

As founder Alton Thacker says, “I’ve always said that the secret of happiness is to make somebody else happy. So after the New Year, we’ll start all over again.”

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Now to our five stories for today.

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1. We know Michael Flynn lied to the FBI. But why?

Speculation abounds over Michael Flynn’s motives for deceiving federal agents. One analyst suggests that the best explanation is usually the simplest one.

Amelia
Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP/File
Former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn leaves federal court in Washington on July 10, 2018. Mr. Flynn, who pleaded guilty to lying to federal investigators, will be sentenced on Dec. 18.

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On Jan. 24, 2017, four days into the new Trump administration, two FBI counterintelligence agents showed up at the White House. They wanted to ask national security adviser Michael Flynn about his telephone contacts with the Russian ambassador during the last month of the Obama administration. What General Flynn didn’t know is that the agents had already reviewed transcripts of his conversations with Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and were testing him to see whether he would be truthful. “If Flynn said he did not remember something [the agents] knew he said, they would use the exact words Flynn used ... to try to refresh his recollection,” a recently released FBI memo says. As Flynn prepares to be sentenced Tuesday, after pleading guilty to lying to federal agents, one unanswered question looms: Why did he lie? “When people lie, there is always a motive,” says Gene Rossi, a former federal prosecutor who is now a defense lawyer in Washington. “The key issue for me is: Was he instructed to lie to the media and other people, including the FBI? Was he instructed to do that?”

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We know Michael Flynn lied to the FBI. But why?

When former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn stands before a federal judge on Tuesday to receive his sentence after pleading guilty to lying to federal agents about his telephone contacts with the Russian ambassador, one unanswered question will loom over the courtroom.

Why did he lie?

As a retired lieutenant general in the US Army, a decorated military intelligence officer with 33 years of service to his country, and a former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, General Flynn well knew that any telephone contacts with Russia’s ambassador in Washington would likely be recorded – and perhaps monitored – by US intelligence officials.

He also knew that he could be prosecuted for making false statements to federal agents.

Nonetheless, when two FBI counterintelligence agents showed up at the White House on Jan. 24, 2017 – four days into the new Trump administration – Flynn was less than fully truthful. 

Nearly two weeks earlier, a Washington Post columnist had quoted “a senior government official” as saying that Flynn had had repeated telephone contacts with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak on the same day that then-President Barack Obama announced an escalation of US sanctions against Russia in retaliation for Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election.

The Logan Act prohibits private individuals from engaging in policy negotiations with foreign countries. But it has never been enforced.

The agents wanted to talk to Flynn about his contacts with Russia during the final month of the Obama administration. Flynn agreed to talk.

What Flynn didn’t know is that the two agents had already reviewed transcripts of the conversations he had with Mr. Kislyak, according to court documents, and were testing Flynn to see how much he would reveal, and whether he would be truthful. 

“If Flynn said he did not remember something [the agents] knew he said, they would use the exact words Flynn used ... to try to refresh his recollection,” a recently released FBI memo says. “If Flynn still would not confirm what he said ... they would not confront him or talk him through it.”

Following the interview, there were at least two areas of concern: In response to whether he had asked Russia to use its power on the United Nations Security Council to delay or defeat a resolution critical of Israeli settlements, Flynn claimed this was not discussed. It was.

And when the agents asked whether Flynn had asked Russia not to retaliate against the US after Mr. Obama imposed new sanctions, Flynn falsely claimed that this, too, was not discussed.

Flynn did more than just lie to the agents. He also deceived Vice President Mike Pence, chief of staff Reince Preibus, and White House spokesman Sean Spicer. 

Relying on Flynn’s assurances, the vice president repeated Flynn’s untruthful account of his contacts with Kislyak in a television interview.

When Flynn’s story started to crumble in the days that followed, it was his deception of Pence that was cited as grounds for his removal. By Feb. 13, Flynn was gone, having served only 24 days as national security adviser.

Still, the question remains: why did Flynn lie?

Legal analysts are divided over possible explanations.

“When people lie, there is always a motive,” says Gene Rossi, a former federal prosecutor who is now a defense lawyer in Washington. “The key issue for me is: Was he instructed to lie to the media and other people, including the FBI? Was he instructed to do that?”

It is clear from documents filed in court by special counsel Robert Mueller that Flynn was not working alone in his outreach to Kislyak. After each communication with the Russian, Flynn reported back to senior officials on Trump’s presidential transition team. Those officials have not yet been publicly identified.

Flynn might have lied to protect those on the transition team, analysts say. In addition, he might also have lied to protect President Trump. 

“Did Donald Trump or some other person in the president’s transition team orbit direct Flynn to [lie]?” asks Andrew Wright, a research scholar at New York University and a founding editor of the “Just Security” website. “I just don’t know.”

Mr. Wright says there isn’t enough public information yet about the full scope of Flynn’s cooperation with the special counsel’s office to identify a motive. 

“I want to see what the government has, in terms of their understanding of what motivated [Flynn] to lie – whether it was purely personal or whether it was protective of others,” says Wright, a former lawyer in the White House counsel’s office during the Obama administration.  

Repeated contacts with the Russians

The Mueller team has pieced together an account detailing Flynn’s contacts with the Russians.

On Dec. 21, 2016, Egypt submitted a resolution to the UN Security Council condemning Israeli settlements. Rather than veto the measure, which had long been US practice, the Obama administration decided this time to abstain – likely allowing the measure to pass.

Officials in the incoming Trump administration strongly disagreed with the decision. At the direction of a “very senior member of the presidential transition team,” Flynn reached out to several countries in an attempt to delay or defeat the resolution, according to court documents.

Russia was among the countries he contacted, asking Kislyak on Dec. 22 if Russia would be willing to delay or veto the resolution. The following day, Kislyak essentially told Flynn no. The resolution eventually passed.

Flynn’s second interaction with Kislyak came five days later, after Obama imposed new sanctions on Russia in retaliation for its meddling in the 2016 election.

That day, Dec. 28, Kislyak reached out to Flynn, according to court documents.

The next day, Flynn contacted a “senior official” on the presidential transition team to discuss what he should tell the Russian ambassador. Immediately after that call, Flynn telephoned Kislyak and requested that Russia not escalate the situation. After relaying that message, Flynn called the senior official back to report on the substance of his conversation with the ambassador.

The following day, Dec. 30, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that Russia would not retaliate for the new US sanctions. A day later, Kislyak called Flynn and told him that in response to Flynn’s request, Russia would not retaliate, according to court documents.

After he received the call, Flynn contacted “senior members of the presidential transition team” to relay the substance of Kislyak’s message, these documents say.

The account strongly suggests that Flynn was not reaching out to the Russians on his own. And they were a clear attempt to engage in diplomatic discussions with Russia at a time when Obama was still the president.

A grand conspiracy?

Although disclosures in court filings have added important details to the public understanding of the Flynn-Kislyak contacts, there is no evidence at this point that Trump had knowledge of or played a role in the episode.

That hasn’t stopped some analysts from suggesting a grand conspiracy involving a presidentially-directed coverup.

Others suggest a less explosive motive behind Flynn’s deception.

“The best explanation is usually the simplest one,” says Paul Rosenzweig, a senior fellow at the R Street Institute who served as a lawyer on the staff of special prosecutor Ken Starr.  “And if the choice is between a grand conspiracy theory and that the guy is a fool, bet on the fool.”

Mr. Rosenzweig says he believes Flynn was embarrassed that his secret contacts with Kislyak were being exposed. What most likely got him into trouble, he says, was Flynn’s arrogance, and an overabundant self-confidence that he could deceive the agents and get away with it.

According to an FBI investigative memo made public last Friday, the two agents who conducted the Flynn interview “both had the impression at the time that Flynn was not lying or did not think he was lying.”

That FBI memo, called a 302, is dated Aug. 22, 2017. Most 302s are drafted within a week or two of the investigative interview, and there is no explanation by prosecutors as to why this 302 is dated seven months after Flynn’s interview.

The 302 was released last week after Flynn’s lawyers accused prosecutors in a court filing of treating him unfairly during the Jan. 24 interview.

Prosecutors dispute the allegation. “Nothing about the way the interview was arranged or conducted caused the defendant to make false statements to the FBI,” senior assistant special counsel Brandon Van Grack wrote in a reply memo. “[Flynn] does not need to be warned it is a crime to lie to federal agents.”

Some legal analysts agree the agents appear to have sought to entrap Flynn, citing comments made by former FBI Director James Comey at New York City’s 92nd Street Y. Mr. Comey, an outspoken Trump critic, told the audience that he personally decided to send the two agents to the White House to interview Flynn – and that he decided to bypass normal protocol.

“If the FBI wanted to send agents into the White House itself to interview a senior official, you would [normally] work through the White House counsel and there would be discussions and approvals,” Comey said. “I thought, it’s early enough, let’s just send a couple guys over.” 

Flynn’s lawyers complain in their filing that their client had been given no warning that he was a target of their investigation.

But others say they see no impropriety in how Flynn was treated.

The FBI agents appear to have followed “good interviewing techniques,” says Rosenzweig, adding that the notion of subjects being tricked or trapped into lying is largely a myth.

“The best way to avoid this problem is to not actually lie,” he says. “Whenever people say, ‘I was entrapped into lying,’ [I respond]: ‘No, you were asked a question and you chose to lie.’ ”

Rossi agrees. “General Flynn did not need to be warned. He knew what he was doing.”

Despite the seriousness of his offense, Flynn is unlikely to face a term in prison. Federal guidelines call for a sentence of zero to six months. And both the government and defense lawyers are urging US District Judge Emmet Sullivan to sentence Flynn to probation, saying Flynn provided “substantial assistance” to the Trump-Russia investigation. That assistance includes participating in 19 debriefing sessions with prosecutors and investigators, extending over nearly 63 hours, and assisting several ongoing investigations.

Nonetheless, it remains unclear why Flynn lied to the agents. Even the former FBI director is in the dark.

“It was clear that he was lying,” Comey said in his appearance at the Y. “But the why was really interesting to us. And I didn’t get that answer.”

“I wouldn’t tell you that answer if I found it,” he added. “But I didn’t get it.” 

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2. Stocks dive, again. Why that might not equal recession.

The recent turmoil in stock markets has some people thinking the mattress is a good place to put their money. Our writer explains why that might not be the best conclusion just yet.

Amelia

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Investors panic. Stocks down another 500 points. Is Wall Street trying to tell us something? Typically, a hard fall in share prices comes during or a few months before a recession. So far, US stock indexes like the Standard & Poor’s 500 are down a little over 10 percent from their record highs set a few months ago. Among traders, that’s a “correction” but hardly the 20 percent decline that would signal a full-on bear market and give a clearer warning of possible recession. The concerns are real: Interest rates are rising, making it more expensive for businesses to borrow, while the fiscal stimulus from US tax cuts is wearing off. The trade-war atmosphere between the US and China doesn’t help. Some global markets, including China’s and Germany’s, are already in bear-market terrain (see chart). But several forecasters say a slowing economy does not mean outright recession. Says Michael Klein, an economist at Tufts University: “There are lots of things that could happen that could help the economy keep going.”

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Stocks dive, again. Why that might not equal recession.

The big downdrafts in US and global stock markets have spooked investors and raised a question: Is something suddenly going very wrong for the economy?

There are real reasons for concern: Central banks have been raising interest rates, making it more expensive for businesses to borrow. Finance experts say the fiscal stimulus from US tax cuts is wearing off. And despite a pause for negotiation, a trade-war atmosphere between the US and China shows no signs of resolution.

But some perspective is in order: Stocks always reflect a mix of factors on investors’ collective radar, and it’s quite common for some turbulence to occur in Wall Street even when no recession is on the way for Main Street.

So far US stock indexes like the Standard & Poor’s 500 are in “correction” territory.  That means stock prices are down more than 10 percent from their all-time highs set a few months ago, but still far from the 20 percent declines that would signal a full-on bear market and give a clearer warning of possible recession.

What’s clear is that investors are recalibrating their expectations, and taking into greater account that US-China trade relations could sour for an extended time. Less clear is whether a downturn for the overall US or global economy is on the horizon.

“There are a number of things pointing toward potential softness in the economy. One shouldn't be sanguine about what's going on,” says Michael Klein, an economist at Tufts University’s Fletcher School. “[But] there are lots of things that could happen that could help the economy keep going.”

Monday was another bad day for world markets, with the S&P 500 falling about 2 percent.

View from abroad

Although the US market is so far down 13 percent from its peak, some global markets including China’s and Germany’s are already in bear-market terrain.

SOURCE: Yahoo Finance (with S&P data), National Bureau of Economic Research, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis
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Jacob Turcotte/Staff

This comes after the International Monetary Fund and others have scaled down their growth forecasts for the world economy. Still, it often takes a significant shock, not just some bumps in the road, to tip an economy from growth to contraction.

“It's really hard to predict turning points in a market or the economy,” says Dr. Klein. 

That’s one reason why many economic forecasters and stock-market strategists remain cautiously optimistic.

A report by forecasters at Oxford Economics last week asserted that a “not too hot, not too cold” Goldilocks environment is still prevailing in the US. “While core retail sales momentum picked up in November and jobless claims fell back near their 49-year low, consumer prices showed that inflationary pressure remain tame.”

And many financial advisers say that, for investors with a long-term horizon like saving for retirement, it’s safer to remain invested in stocks than to panic amid the current volatility. Investment firm Vanguard, for example, sees the prospect of modest but positive stock-market returns in 2019 and for the decade ahead, in the range of 3 to 5 percent for US stocks and a bit higher for global stocks.

Still, slowdowns in economic momentum, at the very least, give the economy less cushion against adverse shocks.

In a note to clients over the weekend, Neil Shearing of Capital Economics said “we expect the global economy to slow next year, and by more than most currently anticipate.” The firm, with offices worldwide including in London and Toronto, sees global economic growth slowing from a 3.7 percent pace in 2018 to around 3.3 percent in 2019 and less than 3 percent in 2020.

“That might not sound very dramatic but, if we’re right, global growth in 2020 would be the third weakest of any year since 2000,” Mr. Shearing wrote. And in the US, the firm sees growth falling from 2.9 percent this year to 2.2 percent next year and a scant 1.2 percent in 2020.

More volatility ahead?

With both forward momentum and challenges, this is the kind of economic climate where markets could remain volatile for a while, up one day and down the next. Will the US-China settle their differences or not? Will the Federal Reserve manage a “soft landing” for the US economy – boosting short-term interest rates enough to keep inflation at bay, while managing to avoid hitting the brakes too hard?

These questions are top of mind, with trade concerns clearly weighing on global markets and with Fed policymakers expected to boost its short-term interest rate for banks once again, at a meeting Wednesday.

In emerging markets, the problem is not just that China has been struggling to maintain economic momentum. It’s also that other nations face tighter financial conditions as boosts in US interest rates ripple overseas. But some forecasters are optimistic that the emerging markets will weather that storm, as the Fed may be reaching the end of its tightening cycle on US interest rates by mid-2019.

The Fed under Chairman Jerome Powell is certainly watching market signals such as the bond “yield curve,” which can be a barometer of trouble when short-term rates (influenced more by the Fed) rise higher than long-term rates (guided more by investors’ sentiments about the outlook).  

“The Fed is always careful,” says Klein at Tufts in Medford, Mass. “[But] to some extent it's going to be outside the ability of the Fed to micromanage the economy.”

SOURCE: Yahoo Finance (with S&P data), National Bureau of Economic Research, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis
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Jacob Turcotte/Staff
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3. As no-deal Brexit risk rises, so does prospect of massive gridlock

A Brexit without a deal? This story offers a cautionary tale about what the consequences might be – including massive traffic jams.

Amelia

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As Britain draws closer to the deadline of March 29, 2019, without Parliament's approval of Theresa May's plan for leaving the European Union, a “no deal” Brexit looks increasingly possible. That would mean no transition period after March 2019 for businesses and regulators and ports to adjust to new rules of trade. A chorus of British politicians and business leaders insist such an outcome is an “own goal” that must be avoided. And while much of the attention has been upon what “no deal” would mean for the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, the effects on the crossing between England and France could be just as profound. The EU supplies 30 percent of all the food, drink, and animal feed consumed in Britain. Every day more than 10,000 trucks cross on ferries or through the tunnel between Dover and the French port of Calais, less than two hours away. Under a no-deal Brexit, however, every goods vehicle would have to clear customs in Dover or Calais. In addition to custom declarations, there would be regulatory checks at ports for animal and forestry products. Those could take hours, depending on the load. Port officials estimate that a two-minute delay for trucks entering Dover would lead to a 17-mile line of trucks on the main highway from London.

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As no-deal Brexit risk rises, so does prospect of massive gridlock

From the concrete overpass, Mike Taylor watches the traffic that trundles through the bucolic countryside, bypassing villages like his own. Nearly all the trucks on this four-lane highway, the M26, are headed to and from the southeastern ports that are Britain’s gateways to Europe and beyond.

The roar from below is unceasing. “It’s like this day and night,” says Mr. Taylor, a local councilor.

To the east, the highway curves towards a junction where it joins an arterial road to the coast. Just out of sight are the “gates” recently installed in the road’s central barrier so that thousands of trucks can be diverted and held back. In the event of a major backlog at the Port of Dover, 50 miles away, this stretch of highway would become a temporary truck park.

What kind of calamity might cause such a monstrous snarl-up?

In a word, Brexit.

Or, more precisely, a “no-deal” Brexit that ends overnight a quarter century of frictionless trade in goods with the European Union on which much of Britain’s economy depends. No deal means no amicable separation – and no transition period after March 2019 for businesses and regulators and ports to adjust to new rules of trade.

The Bank of England recently warned that the economic shock of a disorderly exit, if compounded by higher interest rates and labor shortages, could be greater than the 2008-09 financial crisis. Even a more orderly “hard Brexit” – ending all preferential trading and regulatory arrangements with the EU, and instead seeking a free-trade agreement a la Japan or Canada – would over 15 years mean an economy that’s 9 percent smaller than if it had stayed in, according to a separate government forecast.

And while a chorus of politicians and business leaders insist that a no-deal Brexit is an “own goal” that must be avoided, the risks of it happening are rising. Parliament is deadlocked over Prime Minister Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement with the EU and no alternative is forthcoming. Calls to postpone Brexit and hold a second referendum have so far gone unanswered.

“Absent of anything else securing a majority [in Parliament] that is the path we are on for March 29th,” says Nicola McEwen, a professor of politics at Edinburgh University. A no-deal Brexit “is looking increasingly likely. That’s not to say I think it will happen.”

The Dover-Calais lifeline

Ms. May, who fended off a leadership contest last week, has said that Parliament will get to vote on her unpopular agreement with the EU during the week of Jan. 14. A vote was originally due on Dec. 11. Opposition members of Parliament and some in her own Conservative party accuse her of running down the clock so that MPs face the unpalatable choice between her deal or an imminent no-deal.

“It’s still the default option at the moment, but I think as the date gets closer people are getting increasingly desperate to put something in its place,” says Meg Russell, a politics professor and director of the Constitutional Unit at University College, London. “Parliament doesn’t want a no-deal exit.”

The most controversial aspect of May’s deal concerns another border, that between Northern Ireland, part of the United Kingdom, and Ireland, an EU member. The EU insists on a backstop customs union to prevent an intra-Ireland border, an arrangement that many in May’s party oppose.

Toby Melville/Reuters
A large mural attributed to the British artist Banksy depicts the EU flag being chipped away at the Port of Dover in southeast Britain on Dec. 7.

But it’s the maritime border with France, and the risk of a chaotic end to frictionless trade, that alarms officials here in Kent, the rural county that is likely to feel the brunt of a trade shock.

The EU supplies 30 percent of all the food, drink, and animal feed consumed in Britain. Every day more than 10,000 trucks cross on ferries or through the tunnel between Dover and the French port of Calais, less than two hours away.

The EU customs union means that these trucks are rarely if ever checked. “The only thing that holds it up is waiting to get on the ferry,” says Taylor, who used to run his own freight company.

This seamless border trade allows Japanese automakers to run complex supply chains from Europe to their British assembly plants. Most keep only one or two days of spare parts in stock. British supermarkets stock a cornucopia of fresh food that relies on the unbroken Dover-Calais linkage.

Under a no-deal Brexit, however, every goods vehicle would have to clear customs in Dover or Calais. In addition to custom declarations, there would be regulatory checks at ports for animal and forestry products. That could take hours, depending on the load. Port officials estimate that a two-minute delay to trucks entering Dover would lead to a 17-mile line of trucks on the main highway from London.

Some pro-Brexit lawmakers argue that Britain should ditch May’s unpopular deal and prepare to begin trading with Europe and other partners under World Trade Organization rules. Champions of a hard Brexit say most EU-bound freight could be cleared in advance using tracking software, and that in a pinch, British ports could waive through trucks to avoid a crunch.

Chancellor Philip Hammond has poured cold water on these proposals. He told a Parliamentary committee recently that it could take two years or more just to plan, get permits, and break ground on the infrastructure required at Dover to process EU freight under WTO rules.

Preparing for logjams

In 2015, Kent got a taste of what Brexit could bring. That summer strikes by port workers in Calais and repeated attempts by migrants to smuggle into Britain led to weeks of port stoppages and crippling tailbacks. Authorities converted highways into parking lots: Trucks parked on the hard shoulder and inner lane, and were released when ports had capacity. At its peak, 7,000 trucks were held back for an average of 36 hours, a lifetime in a “just in time” delivery service.

Similar contingency plans have been prepared for the day after Brexit. A disused airport runway up the coast from Dover could hold at least 5,000 trucks, according to Kent County Council. Still, even that capacity may not relieve what could be the mother of all traffic jams.

So in October, with little advance notice, highway authorities closed the M26 that skirts Borough Green. It was to be the first in a series of overnight roadworks that, it emerged, would prepare the 10-mile stretch of highway to hold trucks.

Karen Norris/Staff

The news caught by surprise not just district officials like Taylor but also Tom Tugendhat, a member of Parliament who is a Conservative. The next day he stood up in Parliament to lambast his own government for keeping him in the dark.

“It comes to a pretty pass when an MP is told that work is going on to turn part of a motorway into a lorry park without any consultation with the local community or surrounding members,” he said.

Mr. Tugendhat says that he has got assurances from the transport ministry and other agencies the M26 was a last resort to be used only if others were full. He says residents in Borough Green and nearby villages are rightly worried about the consequences of holding trucks there.

Kent County Council has warned that the effect of highway closures and traffic diversions could trap local residents in their communities, prevent trash from being collected, understaff hospitals and schools, and raise air pollution to dangerous levels.

“I’ve made it clear to the government that they have a lot more work still to do if they want to properly mitigate the impact of this. There is no package in place yet to help, and more work must be done as quickly as possible,” says Tugendhat, a military veteran elected to Parliament in 2015.

Local trucks from a sandpit already share the narrow roads through Borough Green, a parish of 4,500 residents that abuts farms and fields. Taylor is also busy campaigning against a plan to build 3,000 new homes on some of that greenery.

His front door is 10 feet from a local road on which he expects to see Dover-bound trucks seeking alternative routes. In 2015, “every single side road got jammed with traffic,” he says.

In 2016, Tugendhat’s constituency voted 56 percent to 44 percent to leave the EU, a larger margin than the national average. Dover, which includes the port and other towns, went even harder for Brexit: 62 percent of voters opted to leave.

Taylor voted to remain, though he says he had mixed feelings about EU rules on immigration and EU court jurisdiction. But he believes that being in the customs union is a huge economic plus for Britain – and that a no-deal Brexit would be a huge minus.

Asked what should happen, he sighs. “I think we need to have another referendum,” he says.

Karen Norris/Staff
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On the move

The faces, places, and politics of migration

4. Tanzania granted mass citizenship to refugees. Then what?

This story offers a different kind of cautionary tale. Tanzania made an unparalleled decision to grant citizenship to a large refugee community. But promised assistance didn’t follow.

Amelia
Ryan Lenora Brown/The Christian Science Monitor
Esther Muguta fled violence in Burundi in 1972, when she was 18. In 2015, she and 162,000 other refugees became citizens of Tanzania in the largest-ever mass naturalization of refugees.

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How many refugees should we let in? It’s a question that leaders in North America and Europe endlessly debate. But most of the world’s refugees make it only as far as the country next door. From Turkey to Uganda to Pakistan, in countries neighboring war zones or disasters, the question is often not how many refugees to take but what to do with those who inevitably arrive. In 2014, with the help of international donors, Tanzania decided to grant citizenship to more than 160,000 people who had fled violence in Burundi and their children – the biggest mass naturalization of refugees in history. But as that money disappears, or fails to arrive, the aftermath has gotten messy. The story of the New Tanzanians, as the former refugees are called, goes to the heart of questions about what responsibilities poor governments have to desperate people arriving on their doorsteps – and what responsibilities the rest of the world has to them, too.

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Tanzania granted mass citizenship to refugees. Then what?

Daudi Nzila had thought a long time about what made this country his home, and he had decided, finally, it was the bones. 

“When you buried your beloveds somewhere, then that place belongs to you,” he told himself. How could a place not be yours when your blood, your history, were literally a part of the earth you walked on?

There were other things, too. Like the mango trees that swished and swayed over his stout concrete house. Thirty-six years ago, when Mr. Nzila was a young refugee from Burundi, he’d planted two tiny green saplings here as a kind of prayer that he would be in one place long enough to see them grow. Now, they draped over his yard like a giant canopy, blotting the sun. 

And there were his 10 children, Tanzanian to their very core. All but one had been born here, and they spoke Swahili as easily as they breathed. At school, they wore sweaters in the colors of the Tanzanian flag, memorized Tanzanian history, belted the Tanzanian national anthem.

For Nzila, becoming Tanzanian had been a slow accumulation of experiences. But it had also happened all at once. 

In 2014, he and 162,000 other Burundian refugees were granted Tanzanian citizenship. It was a monumental event, the first and only time that a country has turned so many people from refugees to citizens all at once. (It is comparable, as a percentage of the country’s population, to the US naturalizing a million people in one go.) The aftermath, however, has been messy, with many former refugees feeling abandoned by both Tanzania and the international community that promised to help the country through the citizenship process.

Still, for people like Nzila and many of his neighbors, the act changed the shape of the world.

“I’m not sure there’s another country in the world that would do for us what Tanzania did,” says Leonard Abihudi, the chairperson of the main village in Ulyankulu, one of the settlements in western Tanzania where the Burundian refugees settled four decades ago. “It is not an easy thing to do, to take the food you have bought for your children and instead give it to strangers. But that is what this country did for us, and we owe them great respect for it.” 

Across North America and Europe, the question of how many refugees to accept is the subject of endless debate. Twenty thousand this year, perhaps, maybe 30,000 the next. But in places like Tanzania, there isn’t the same luxury of choice. The vast majority of refugees travel only as far as the country next door. From Turkey to Uganda to Pakistan, in countries neighboring war zones or humanitarian disasters, the question is often not how many people to take but what to do with those who inevitably arrive.

Now their presence is pushing world leaders – who gathered last week in Morocco to sign a global agreement on migration – to reckon with another set of questions. In the countries that receive the most refugees – most of them poor nations themselves – what responsibilities do governments have to the desperate people arriving on their doorsteps? And what responsibility does the rest of the world have to them? 

Ryan Lenora Brown/The Christian Science Monitor
A market area in Ulyankulu, Tanzania, one of several settlements the government set up for Burundian refugees in the 1970s.

The story of the watanzania wapya, the New Tanzanians, goes to the heart of those questions. It’s the story of what happens when a government and international donors make a difficult promise to refugees, and what happens when they fail to follow through.

“The world left us like they had no debt to us,” Nzila says. “We are still waiting.”

***

Esther Muguta ran through the day. She ran through the night. She ran past forests of oil palms and coffee trees, sagging under their abandoned harvest. She ran as the moon glinted off Lake Tanganyika and as the sun rose over it in pinks and blues. She didn’t stop running, or so it felt, until she had reached the Tanzanian border three days later.

It was July 1972, two months into a bloody and tangled conflict between Burundi’s two ethnic groups, the Hutu and the Tutsi. Mass killings of Hutus were becoming common, and Ms. Muguta’s family knew they had to get out.

They assumed it would be temporary. At home, they had been rich, with a lush farm and enough slippery silver lake fish that they were never hungry. But here, they lived in a mud hut and took humiliatingly small jobs for humiliatingly small money. Her brother, unused to hard labor, sometimes returned from work with his hands bloody, peeling as easily as the skin of a boiled tomato. 

“People say we were brave then,” she says. “We weren’t brave. We just had no other choice.”

But the Mugutas were also, in some ways, lucky. The Tanzania they walked into, just a decade into its independence, was led by a president, Julius Nyerere, who had steeped his country in the idea of pan-African solidarity.

“No true African socialist can look at a line drawn on a map and say the people on this side of that line are my brothers, but those who happen to live on the other side of it can have no claim on me,” Nyerere had said in a speech a few years before. “Every individual on this continent is his brother.”

As tens of thousands of Burundian refugees began arriving, Nyerere’s government built three settlements for them to live in. So, along with thousands of others, Muguta packed her things and made her way to Ulyankulu, a sprawl of forest and brush 400 kilometers east of the Burundian border where Nyerere had promised they could stay as long as they needed.

And so life began again. The refugees slept outside until they could build themselves small houses. Then they scooped red clay out of the earth and built roads. They built schools. They planted long rows of corn and waited for them to grow. Children were born, and then grew up. Their parents stopped, or tried to stop, imagining when they might go home.

***

But though the green edges of Ulyankulu blurred into the surrounding countryside – not blocked off by fences or watch towers – there were still many reminders that the refugees were not Tanzanians.

For one thing, they still needed permission to leave the settlements. And wherever they went, their history seemed to linger on them like a bad smell.

Mkimbizi, whispered Eric Nyandwi’s high school classmates. It meant refugee, but the direct Swahili translation was one who fled his home. And to Mr. Nyandwi, that meaning was laced with shame.

Why didn’t you stay? the word seemed to beg. Why didn’t you fight?

“Growing up, you feel very badly about your history,” says Grace Ntayaya, who was raised in Ulyankulu, the child of Burundian refugees. “You’ve never even touched the clay of Burundi, but to everyone here, that’s where you belong.”

Ryan Lenora Brown/The Christian Science Monitor
A barber shop in Ulyankulu, Tanzania. When Tanzania's government created Ulyankulu and other refugee settlements in the 1970s, it purposely set them up to function as towns, not refugee camps, to allow residents to become self-sufficient.

By the early 2000s, the Tanzanian government was facing a conundrum. The Burundian communities in Ulyankulu and the other two settlements in western Tanzania, Katumba and Mishamo, had been living there so long that more than 80 percent of the population had actually been born in Tanzania. Though they were technically Burundians under the law, most had no interest in “returning” to a country they had never laid eyes on.

“It seemed prudent, at that time, that we would just allow them to stay,” says Harrison Mseke, director of refugee services in the Tanzanian Ministry of Home Affairs. And allowing the refugees to stay served another purpose as well. Ruling party Chama Cha Mapinduzi – once led by Nyerere – had pledged in 2005 to make the country “refugee free” by 2010. For CCM, giving Burundians citizenship was, ironically, a quick way to that goal.

So in late 2007, the government struck a deal with the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, and donors. It would offer citizenship or a ticket home to the more than 200,000 Burundians who had come in 1972 and their descendants. The UN and its partners budgeted about $100 million to help close the old settlements and resettle the new citizens across the country.

About 162,000 people took up Tanzania’s offer of citizenship, including Mugata. (Another 46,000 opted to return to Burundi). The process was riddled with delays, but in early 2015 she at last joined a long line outside a government office in Ulyankulu. When she reached the front, an official handed her a small laminated square of paper with her photograph in the corner.

This is to certify that Esther Stariko Muguta has been naturalized as a citizen of Tanzania under section 9(1) of the Tanzania Citizenship Act. 

Her hands shook as she took it from him. I felt free,” she says. 

Many of the ways citizenship changed her life were small, almost imperceptible. It was, more than anything, a feeling of lightness, of holding her head up higher. She didn’t need anyone’s permission to be here anymore. 

But some things hadn’t changed. Settlement residents still could not build anything without government permission. The plan to close them down, meanwhile, stalled after locals resisted and donors failed to come through with the cash. (In 2018, UNHCR’s operations in Tanzania fell $74 million short of their goal. And UNHCR says that the $100 million figure put forward to resettle the New Tanzanians was an estimate of the costs, which it hoped to get from its funders, not a promised pledge.)

Several thousand refugees had also missed the deadline to apply for citizenship or hadn’t had their applications processed, leaving them stuck in limbo as they waited for the government to reopen applications. (It eventually did so, but none of the 30,000 or so refugees who applied in the second round has yet received citizenship.)

Both international organizations and the Tanzanian government have pointed fingers at each other as the administration shifts its stance toward refugees.

“There has been a growing frustration within government that the donor community has abandoned us,” says Mr. Mseke.

***

That frustration, he says, has had knock-on effects in Tanzania’s policies toward newer waves of migrants arriving on its doorstep.

Since political violence broke out in Burundi in 2015, more than a quarter million people have crossed the border into Tanzania. Some 222,000 remain in dreary camps, though Tanzania’s president, John Magafuli, has made repeated overtures for them to leave.

“It’s not that I am expelling Burundian refugees. I am just advising them to voluntarily return home,” said Mr. Magufuli in July 2017, amid widespread reports that violence was continuing in Burundi. “I urge Burundians to remain in their country, I have been assured the place is now calm.”

This February, Magafuli withdrew the country from a UN pilot program intended to find long-term solutions to protracted refugee crises around the world. He was concerned, he said, that the international community didn’t really care about its responsibilities to refugee-hosting countries like Tanzania. 

Even for many in government, however, these pivots were disconcerting. Mseke, a 30-year veteran of the department of refugee affairs, wonders if the Burundians still waiting on citizenship papers will ever receive them under this administration.

Still, for many thousands, like Muguta, the deed is done. But she still wakes up at night sometimes with the feeling of Burundi pressing down on her chest. She still lives with what she calls “the refugee mentality,” casting a constant glance over her shoulder at the life that might have been if she hadn’t had to flee.

But then she reminds herself that she didn’t come here for a better life. She came here so that she might live at all. Occasionally, she’s even felt a surge of patriotism for her new country. Like in October 2015, when she voted in her first Tanzanian election. 

Afterward, an election official dipped her pinky finger in black ink to the second knuckle, and she walked out proudly, marked by her citizenship.

“I voted for the people who welcomed me, who fed me, who made me Tanzanian,” she says.

She had voted for Nyerere’s party, the CCM. She had voted for Magafuli.

This story is Part 11 of the series “On the Move: the faces, places, and politics of migration.”

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5. Witty banter optional: ‘Silent’ book clubs offer no-pressure reads

The solitary act of reading becomes more social – and maybe a little more competitive – at a typical book club. Here’s a middle-ground idea for the shy or homework-averse.

Amelia
Ann Hermes/Staff
Amy Fairbrother and Keshav Ramaswamy dig into books during a Silent Book Club gathering at Trident Booksellers and Café in Boston on Dec. 4, 2018. Club attendees read their own selections during the meetings, socializing before and after.

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Guinevere de la Mare had a meeting for a traditional book club coming up. She wasn’t fond of the selection, which she never finished. “I was really frustrated with the idea that I felt like I had homework as a woman in my late 30s,” Ms. de la Mare says. Her neighbor Laura Gluhanich in San Francisco agreed that their preferred book club would be outside their homes – they wouldn’t “have to vacuum and prepare beautiful platters of hors d’oeuvres” – and they could read whatever they happened to be reading at the time. No assignments. Today, Silent Book Club has more than 50 chapters all over the world. When the idea of hosting a group was pitched to her, Trident Booksellers’ Caitlin Kling says that “what sealed it for me was the ‘self care’ angle. The idea that we don’t set aside enough time to just sit down with a good book that we really want to read ... really resonated with me, and I loved that this would give people an opportunity to do that for at least an hour.”

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Witty banter optional: ‘Silent’ book clubs offer no-pressure reads

It’s a book-loving introvert’s dream: Show up for a meeting and chat with fellow attendees for half an hour. Open your own book; silence reigns for an hour. Half an hour more of socializing follows after that. 

That’s a Silent Book Club, the creation of two friends who share an unease with small talk and a dislike of homework. Guinevere de la Mare remembers talking with fellow founder Laura Gluhanich when they were neighbors in San Francisco several years ago. Ms. de la Mare had a meeting for a traditional book club coming up and wasn’t fond of the selection, which she never finished.

“I was really frustrated with the idea that I felt like I had homework as a woman in my late 30s,” de la Mare says. The two agreed that their preferred book club would be outside their homes – they wouldn’t “have to vacuum and prepare beautiful platters of hors d’oeuvres” – and they could read whatever they happened to be reading at the time. No assignments. 

It was Ms. Gluhanich, according to de la Mare, who said, “That sounds awesome. Let’s do it.”

Silent Book Club now has more than 50 chapters all over the world.

Ann Hermes/Staff
Charlene Chow reads at Trident Booksellers and Café in Boston on Dec. 4. The founding club was created by two friends in San Fransisco and has expanded to more than 50 chapters around the world.

“You can hang out with your friends and you can chat for a little while, and then when you hit that horrible moment of running out of small talk, you can just [say], ‘Oh, OK, now it’s time to read,’ ” de la Mare says. “I mean, it’s just such a dreaded moment.... It completely avoids the problem, ... and nobody’s judging you for it.”

The all-volunteer organization started in 2012, but de la Mare estimates they’ve doubled in size over just the last year. At first it was just de la Mare and Gluhanich and a growing group of acquaintances. Then a friend moved to Brooklyn and took their brainchild there.

Farther north in Toronto, Vicki Ziegler and about a dozen regulars have been meeting monthly for more than a year at a store called PRESS Books Coffee Vinyl. They wanted to support a local business, and meeting in a bookshop certainly has its advantages. “If a book gets mentioned during the book club, you can literally turn around, reach up, and grab the book off the shelf,” Ms. Ziegler says.

And there are a lot of recommendations among members. Ziegler says “Indian Horse” by Canadian writer Richard Wagamese has been read, and loved, by every member. They’re also generous lenders. This past summer, Ziegler lent a book that she hadn’t started yet. “It’s actually making the rounds now. And so at some point I’m going to get to read it. But I hear it’s good.”

The gatherings have been so popular that Ziegler has fielded requests from other members to meet more often. 

Kat Stone Underwood, public services librarian at Daniel Boone Regional Library in Colombia, Mo., says starting a Silent Book Club was “kind of selfish”: “I wanted to join one, but we didn’t have one anywhere near us,” she says. Ms. Stone Underwood was another person attracted by the lack of homework. “I’m very much someone who doesn’t like to read things that are assigned to me,” she says. The library’s chapter usually attracts six or so attendees per month. Stone Underwood thinks part of the attraction is that “you’re completely giving yourself permission to just read for an hour.”

Ann Hermes/Staff
Manasa Davuluri (l.), Ashley Smith, and Charlene Chow discuss the books they’re reading at the start of a Silent Book Club meeting at Trident Booksellers and Cafe. The club is geared toward readers who prefer the lack of pressure to discuss a single book, as many typical book clubs do.

 

That notion was stressed at a recent Silent Book Club meeting at Trident Booksellers in Boston. When events and marketing coordinator Caitlin Kling was pitched the idea of hosting a group, “what sealed it for me was the ‘self care’ angle,” she writes in an email. She was also fully on board with the lack of assigned reading. “The idea that we don’t set aside enough time to just sit down with a good book that we really want to read ... really resonated with me, and I loved that this would give people an opportunity to do that for at least an hour,” she says.

But it was that ever-potent mixture of chatting and reading silently that brought in first-time attendee Ashley Smith.

“I've been trying to get out of the house more, and I love Trident as a store, and it sounds like a really cool idea,” she says. “I’m very introverted, so it’s a nice balance between being social and not.”

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The Monitor's View

Navigating the giving season, with joy

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“Giving until it hurts is a bad way to think about it,” billionaire philanthropist Bill Cummings told Forbes recently. “We give until it feels good.” The Cummings family are quietly and gradually giving their fortune to charity. Most Americans recognize the need to be charitable: Giving by individuals reached an estimated $286.65 billion in 2017, an increase of 3 percent from the previous year, according to a report from Giving USA. Americans have a strong track record of volunteering. But the recent trend line hasn’t been positive: Volunteerism hit a high between 2003 and 2005, when 28.8 percent of Americans said they had volunteered during the previous year. More recently that number has dropped to 25.3 percent. The decision to give shouldn’t lie only in crunching numbers and making a ledger of pluses and minuses. It springs from the heart. “I am as light as a feather,” shouts Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol.” “I am as happy as an angel, I am as merry as a school-boy.” Whether writing a check or volunteering, today’s givers should expect to experience that innate joy.

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Navigating the giving season, with joy

In his oft-cited book “Democracy in America,” 19th-century Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville observed, “The health of a democratic society may be measured by the quality of functions performed by private citizens.”

A 21st-century translation: Helping others matters.

And there’s a side benefit: It’s a joy. 

“Giving until it hurts is a bad way to think about it,” billionaire philanthropist Bill Cummings told Forbes recently. “We give until it feels good.” The Cummings family, who have no expensive toys (his wife still clips coupons and they almost always fly economy class), are quietly and gradually giving their fortune to charity. 

In deciding where to give, they rely on a committee of some 80 local volunteers from their community near Boston. These volunteers “really struggle” with making the best choices about where to donate, Mr. Cummings says. “It’s so satisfying for me and Joyce to see how much they care.”

Most Americans recognize the need to be charitable: Giving by individuals reached an estimated $286.65 billion in 2017, an increase of 3 percent from the previous year (adjusted for inflation), according to a report from Giving USA. 

While most people don’t have a small army of eager researchers to steer their year-end giving, nonprofit groups such as Charity Navigator and GuideStar are quick online resources in finding well-run charities that support worthy causes around the world.

Giving best starts from the heart. According to Barna, a Christian organization that researches American values and beliefs, 62 percent of those who become involved in a charitable cause do so at first because they believe they can make a difference; 45 percent had seen or heard a moving story that motivated them.

This desire to help overcomes feelings of so-called compassion fatigue that argue the problem is hopeless, defying remedy.

Among the questions givers might ask themselves when deciding where to donate: 

Does this cause or institution get at a very important problem? 

Is this a “neglected cause” that isn’t receiving as much support as it deserves? 

Does this charity or institution have a sound track record for making a real difference? Is it well managed, with low overhead expenses?

Sending money, of course, isn’t the only way to give. Americans have a strong track record of volunteering. But the recent trend line hasn’t been positive: Volunteerism hit a high between 2003 and 2005, when 28.8 percent of Americans said they had volunteered during the previous year. More recently that number has dropped to 25.3 percent.

“As a nation, we must commit resources and time to the challenging work of putting more Americans back to work improving and engaging with their communities,” says Robert Grimm, director of the Do Good Institute at the University of Maryland, who co-wrote a November report called “Where are America’s Volunteers?” that measured the drop. 

Volunteering also can replace the isolation sometimes felt by living in the world of social media (Facebook, et al.), by providing opportunities for real human contact.

The decision to give shouldn’t lie only in crunching numbers and making a ledger of pluses and minuses. It springs from the heart. 

“I am as light as a feather,” shouts Ebenezer Scrooge after his epiphany on giving in Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol.” “I am as happy as an angel, I am as merry as a school-boy.” 

Whether writing a check or volunteering, today’s givers should expect to experience that innate joy.

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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.

From darkness to light

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Today’s contributor recalls a Christmas when the light of God’s pure love broke through mental darkness, freeing her from a deep sense of anguish and hopelessness.

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From darkness to light

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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As the much-loved Christmas account goes, a radiant star flickered persistently in the deep shade of night to guide the wise men to the baby Jesus.

We all need a guiding light when we find ourselves in a dark place, and Christian Science has shown me that we have one. It explains how turning to God in prayer can open us to the divine light of understanding that shows what God is and does for us. This spiritual light or divine enlightenment is the Christ, or Truth, that heals.

One Christmas I experienced the healing power of this guiding star – of God’s light of pure love leading to hope and healing. It was shortly after my first husband had passed on, and the weight of grief and deep sadness enveloped me. My future felt bleak and meaningless.

As midnight approached on Christmas Eve, I reached out with the deepest heartfelt longing for God to show me how to go forward. As I did, I felt the impetus to become completely still. In total silence I listened inwardly for a response. In this mental stillness, a shift occurred. Instead of pleading for help, I felt as if I was being filled with the spiritual light of divine Truth.

Christian Science also teaches that Truth, God, is divine Mind, the only true Mind of each of us, God’s spiritual creation. This Mind reflects in its creation all true thought, and God’s thoughts don’t include anguish and pain. Jeremiah, a Bible figure who glimpsed something of this, wrote, as The Jewish Publication Society’s 1917 version of the Hebrew Bible, Tanakh, puts it, “I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11).

As I considered these ideas in prayer, I realized that Mind, God, doesn’t fret and fear for me or any of His children. He already knows and gives each of us what is necessary for us to thrive.

Acknowledging God’s “thoughts of peace” toward me, I saw a future of good – of great possibilities of a new life full of love and fresh opportunities, because God is expressing His goodness in all His spiritual offspring, at every moment. I knew I could trust God to lead me forward, and I fell into a peaceful sleep. Upon waking on Christmas morning, I felt a clear sense of God’s love and guidance. The mental darkness was gone and didn’t return. I was healed.

In a Christmas message, Mary Baker Eddy, discoverer of Christian Science and founder of the Monitor, wrote, “The star that looked lovingly down on the manger of our Lord, lends its resplendent light to this hour: the light of Truth, to cheer, guide, and bless man as he reaches forth for the infant idea of divine perfection dawning upon human imperfection, – that calms man’s fears, bears his burdens, beckons him on to Truth and Love and the sweet immunity these bring from sin, sickness, and death” (“Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896,” p. 320).

The radiant beams of divine Mind, God, are ever with us, bearing the good news that darkness has no real power to displace or repel the divine light of God’s goodness. May this guiding star light your way to peace and healing this Christmas season.

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Viewfinder

The beauty of solidarity

Thomas Peter/Reuters
Liu Ermin, wife of Chinese rights lawyer Zhai Yanmin, has her head shaved in protest over the government’s treatment of her husband in Beijing, China, Dec. 17, 2018. Four wives of lawyers detained during a July 2015 sweep known as the 709 crackdown shaved their heads as part of an ongoing public campaign for justice for their husbands.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris. )
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In Our Next Issue

( December 18th, 2018 )

We’re glad you started your week with us. Please come back tomorrow for the final episode of our podcast “Perception Gaps.” Host Samantha Laine Perfas will explore why such gaps exist – and what the media’s role is in closing them.

Monitor Daily Podcast

December 17, 2018
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