David Clark Scott
Audience Engagement Editor

Monitor editors were mulling over some of the major events of the day – the reported death of the Islamic State leader, Microsoft’s plan to close the Wi-Fi gap in rural America, Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with a Russian lawyer (see below) – but the gravitational pull of altruism kept bringing us back to Florida.

Six members of a single family were swept out to sea by a riptide off Panama City Beach. Four more people, trying to help, were also caught in the current.

There were no lifeguards on duty. Police were on the scene, but waiting for a rescue boat.

That’s when something remarkable happened. One by one, strangers on the beach formed a human chain stretching out into the water. First 20, then 50, then 80 people held hands, forming a line about 100-yards long, reported the Panama City News Herald. Some couldn’t swim themselves but stood there up to their necks in water. All 10 swimmers were saved.

That Florida beach was a portrait of collaboration, compassion, and selflessness – times 80. No gender or racial divides: It was just people, linking arms, helping people.

1. What the Don Jr. email could mean for Trump presidency

Campaign collusion with Russia or a media witch hunt? The latest revelation by the president’s own son may answer that question.


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Donald Trump’s dramatic presidency may have reached a turning point toward rougher waters both at home and overseas. Abroad, last week’s Group of 20 meetings showed a US administration increasingly isolated from traditional allies. At home, the drip-drip of revelations about President Trump and Russian meddling in the 2016 election has turned into a gusher. News that Trump’s eldest son, son-in-law, and campaign manager met with a Kremlin-connected lawyer in June 2016 has brought the Russia story deep within the president’s own family. Emails depict Donald Trump Jr. as eager for Moscow-produced dirt on Hillary Clinton (information the lawyer in question didn’t have). Such contact may well be illegal. At the least, it makes it more difficult for President Trump himself to continue to denigrate the FBI investigation of ties between his campaign and Russia as a “witch hunt!”


What the Don Jr. email could mean for Trump presidency

“I love it.”

With those three words, Donald Trump Jr. has brought the Justice Department’s investigation of Russian meddling into the 2016 election deep into the immediate Trump family, setting up a possible confrontation with the FBI and perhaps altering the future course of President Trump’s administration.

“I love it.”

Mr. Trump Jr. wrote this in June 2016, in response to the prospect of receiving Russian-government produced derogatory information on then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. An intermediary was offering a meeting with someone described as a Kremlin-linked lawyer, who allegedly possessed such dirt. It was part of the Russian government’s support for presidential candidate Donald Trump, according to the friend.

“If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer,” wrote the Trump son in an email on the subject. Trump Jr. released the entire chain of emails Tuesday in advance of a New York Times story on their contents.

The president’s son did not apparently get any negative information about Mrs. Clinton from meeting with the Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, in Trump Tower. But at the least, the meeting contradicts months of vehement White House denials that Donald Trump or his associates ever contacted individuals thought to be associated with the Russian government, or tried to collude with them to damage Clinton’s candidacy. Indeed, the email chain released by Trump Jr. shows someone almost eager to collude with Russia to elect Trump, if collusion were offered.

Revelations about the meeting may make it difficult for President Trump to continue to insist that there is no evidence of collusion between Russia and his campaign, and that the whole thing is “fake news” and a “witch hunt.” At a time when the Group of 20 meetings showed a United States increasingly isolated on the world stage, Trump senior now faces the prospect of further isolation in Washington, as Democrats attack and Republicans edge away from a chief executive who appears to have little interest in the details of GOP policies and constantly pressures them to hurry up and provide him with legislative wins.

“We may well look back and say, ‘yes, this was a turning point,’ ” says Chris Edelson, an assistant professor of government in the School of Public Affairs at American University. “We may look back and say there were a couple of turning points. It’s hard to know how history will turn out.”

Why is the Trump Jr. stuff such a big deal? After all, opposition research is a normal aspect of US political campaigns. Everybody collects it. Of course Trump’s son would love the prospect of information about Hillary Clinton that would make a good negative ad.

Yes – but it’s illegal to get help for elections from foreigners. This includes cash and material aid. It’s also illegal for a US campaign to solicit such a donation, whether it receives it or not.

There is also the implication that the meeting in question was just one part of a larger effort. “This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump,” wrote the trusted intermediary who set up the meeting with the Russian lawyer, according to the email chain.

That sentence raises a number of difficult questions. What “government support?” Was there a quid pro quo, such as a relaxation of sanctions or a return of Russian diplomatic property blocked in retaliation for Moscow’s hacking? Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and a current White House advisor, was in the meeting. What was his role?

“I think [Trump Jr.] potentially could be in considerable legal trouble ... potentially involving treason,” says University of Richmond Law School professor Carl Tobias in an email interview.

President Trump could escalate the situation if he chooses. He could fire special counsel Robert Mueller in an attempt to curtail the investigation. He could preemptively pardon his son of any crimes he may have committed. Either action might set up a crisis situation in Washington.

How Republicans in Congress respond will be crucial. To this point many in the GOP have gone along with Trump, despite the difficulties of dealing with the Tweeter-in-Chief. Trump remains popular with Republican voters, after all. He doesn’t really push his own policies on Speaker Paul Ryan or majority leader Mitch McConnell. He seems content to allow congressional leaders to proceed with their own agenda, with himself acting as chief cheerleader.

Yet there are dangers in such congressional acquiescence, say critics. It’s not enough to depend on the FBI. Congress should ramp up its own investigations of Trump and Russia, perhaps with more public hearings, says Dr. Edelson of American University. Otherwise, it may appear Congress is normalizing collusion with a foreign power.

“Don Jr. did what he did secretly. If there are no consequences why not do it openly?” says Edelson.

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2. For conservatives, health-care choice trumps other values

On health-care reform, Republicans face two apparently competing principles: more freedom of choice and less government spending. Two senators offer their solution.


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When does one conservative principle trump another? When deeply divided Republicans are struggling to unify around a clear plan for health-care reform. Sens. Ted Cruz and Mike Lee think they have a solution. They’ve offered an amendment to the Republican health-care bill, which is a trade-off of GOP values: much more choice, rather than having to buy mandated coverage; on the other hand, taxpayers would have to prop up plans for people with serious medical conditions. Even while their change would allow insurance companies to offer no-frills insurance plans to consumers, it would still require insurers to offer essential health-care benefits and provisions for those with preexisting conditions that are covered by the Affordable Care Act. The much-talked about proposal has some serious backers, including Vice President Mike Pence. But it also has its detractors, who warn that it will cause healthy people to flee from the more-generous plans, making them unaffordable and useless. The GOP hopes to take the bill to the Senate in a vote next week.


For conservatives, health-care choice trumps other values

In the crucible that Republicans hope will produce a health-care bill acceptable to at least 50 GOP senators, key conservative values – such as more choice in health plans – are taking precedence over another important one: attitudes about government spending.

Or at least that’s the case with a much-talked-about change to the bill offered by conservative Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Sen. Mike Lee of Utah.

The title of their amendment says it all: The Consumer Freedom amendment. It favors the ability to choose no-frills insurance plans instead of being forced to pay a fine or buy a plan with guaranteed benefits that people may not want, as mandated under the Affordable Care Act.

“The most unpopular part of Obamacare is the individual mandate. So trying to provide choices and options that include something that’s attractive to young, healthier individuals I think is important,” Sen. John Cornyn (R) of Texas told reporters on Monday. However, “We’re still trying to figure out … what that costs,” said the No. 2 ranking Republican in the Senate.

And therein lies the potential values trade-off. Because while Senators Cruz and Lee provide an avenue for greater choice, the two senators say insurers would still be obligated to provide plans that meet the Obamacare guarantees, including provisions for preexisting conditions. Helping consumers afford those more generous plans, as Cruz admits, will involve “direct taxpayer funds.”

Because Cruz’s amendment promises lower premiums and more choice, he sees it as a way to unify a deeply divided conference – while still keeping the essential health-care benefits of Obamacare. He is busy selling it to his colleagues this week as Republicans try to finalize a bill and bring it to a vote next week.

Cruz’s plan to lower premiums

Republicans have long tried to curb government spending on health care. The Senate GOP bill’s phase-out of Medicaid expansion under Obamacare and its switch from open-ended federal funding of Medicaid to a cap on funding reflect that priority. The independent Congressional Budget Office estimates that the bill would cut $772 billion in Medicaid by 2026.

“I’m for the amendment, but not for the subsidies that they’re piling on for the insurance companies,” said libertarian Sen. Rand Paul (R) of Kentucky on Fox News on Tuesday morning. “That is not a free-market trade-off,” he said. Senator Paul opposes the bill as it stands.

But in the minds of Cruz and other supporters – including Vice President Mike Pence and key conservative advocacy groups such as the Club for Growth – the benefits of more choice are paramount because, the amendment’s authors believe, that choice will foster more market competition and bring down premiums.

“Let’s focus on lowering premiums,” Cruz said on CBS’s Face the Nation on Sunday. “If we can … give people more choices, more options, more freedom, and lower premiums, that’ll be a win.”

At the same time, he cites “wide agreement” in Congress for “significant assistance” to people with serious medical conditions, and says he would rather have that assistance supported directly by taxpayers than by young people just starting out in life.

“Let’s use Warren Buffett’s taxes and not that of a 28-year-old woman starting her career,” he said on Sunday.

The CBO report also estimated that 22 million more people would be uninsured under the Senate GOP plan by 2026, including an initial 15 million in 2018. However, it assessed that most of those 15 million would be people who voluntarily dropped out as a result of removing the individual mandate.

The death of Obamacare in practice, if not in law

Some Republicans, such as Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, like the amendment. The Arizonan sees general taxpayer funding for plans that help people with preexisting conditions as “more efficient” than trying to pay for those costs through a mandate to buy insurance.

Matt Mackowiak, a GOP consultant in Austin, Texas, says Republicans’ willingness to subsidize such plans with taxpayer dollars is a response to the very effective Democratic message that people will lose coverage and die if the Republican Senate plan becomes law.

“I think we have to be compassionate here as a party. We have to address this very emotional concern that people have,” he says.

But other Republican senators are worried that bare-bones plans will also cause harm – because healthy people will flee from the more generous Obamacare plan, leaving behind only people who are the most ill, who would face skyrocketing premiums. Those plans would become unaffordable and useless – the death of Obamacare in practice, instead of through legislation.

If healthy people drop Obamacare plans, “What that means is people who are not getting a significant subsidy or people who aren’t wealthy enough couldn’t get plans,” says Cynthia Cox, an expert on the Obamacare exchange markets at the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R) of Iowa, who has considerable experience with health-care legislation, warned about “subterfuge” in the Cruz-Lee amendment. “There's a real feeling that that’s subterfuge to get around pre-existing conditions,” he said of the Cruz amendment, speaking to Iowa Public Radio last week. If that’s the case, he added, “I would object to that.”

CBO report due out early next week

No one knows, however, exactly what the cost of the Cruz and Lee amendment would be – in terms of coverage, premiums, or budget dollars. That will be determined by the Congressional Budget Office, when it “scores” the GOP bill, expected early next week. The score on the amendment will be decisive in whether it becomes part of the bill or not.

Even if enough Republican senators were to swing behind the amendment, though, other issues remain. Moderate Republicans are extremely concerned about the bill’s proposed changes to Medicaid. “Add to that the general positive review that Republican governors have of Medicaid expansion,” says Mr. Mackowiak. “A senator never wants to go against their own governor and their own party in a state.” 

Republican leaders want to finish up health care next week and then get started on other business, such as defense spending and the debt ceiling. Unusually, the Senate will work during the first two weeks of August instead of taking a recess, so that it can make a dent in its backlog of work.


3. Some black gun owners see double standard on gun rights

At the Monitor, we look for thought shifts – and what drives them. There are few more dramatic shifts than the change in how African-Americans now look at gun ownership. Increasingly, it’s seen as a constitutional right.

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Shoppers roam a gun show in Port St. Lucie, Fla. Gun ownership is rising among African-Americans in the Trump era.

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At 280 pounds, Louis Dennard says he can be an intimidating presence – until people get to know him as the kindhearted gardener and pitmaster that he is. He’s also one of a growing number of black gun owners. The National African-American Gun Association has grown from 800 to 20,000 members since 2015. “The main thing – and I’d be lying if I said something else – is that in the last 18 months the racial tone of the country has tilted in a direction that is alarming, at a minimum,” says Philip Smith, founder of the NAAGA. But Mr. Dennard and other black gun owners say they face a stark question: Can African-Americans expect to be covered by the Second Amendment in a country still marbled by racist rhetoric, attitudes, and acts? Given that white Americans have led the liberalization of gun laws in the past decade, black gun carry is becoming a test of constitutional agency. Incidents like the June acquittal of the Minnesota police officer who shot Philando Castile, a legal gun owner, during a traffic stop have added to that tension, gun owners say.  


Some black gun owners see double standard on gun rights

Like many African-Americans of his generation, Phillip Smith, a Californian in his 50s, grew up without a gun in the house. To his parents, gun ownership was not just politically unacceptable, but morally wrong – a fount, if anything, of trouble and tragedy.

When he moved his own family to the South in 2002, he found a different tradition, where black families, many of them fresh from the farms, had hunting rifles for sport and, to an extent, self-defense. Mr. Smith was intrigued. As he bought his first guns and began practicing at a gun range, he had an epiphany: Perhaps the Second Amendment is the black man’s ultimate sign of full citizenship.

Smith’s crossover into the world of guns and ammo makes him part of a widening attempt to, as he says, “normalize” a black gun-carrying tradition fraught with historical pain and tragedy.

His advocacy for African-American gun rights has turned out to be a potent message. The National African-American Gun Association he founded has grown from 800 to 20,000 members since 2015. Unlike the primarily white and male National Rifle Association, NAAGA is diverse in both color and gender; 60 percent of its members are women.

“The main thing – and I’d be lying if I said something else – is that in the last 18 months the racial tone of the country has tilted in a direction that is alarming, at a minimum,” says Smith, who lives in an Atlanta suburb. “For African-Americans, we’re seeing the same old faces, the same type of conversations we saw in the ‘50s and ‘60s, and we thought they were dead and gone.”

Given that white Americans have led the liberalization of gun laws in the past decade, black gun carry is becoming a test of constitutional agency, injecting what University of Arizona gun culture expert Jennifer Carlson calls the specter of “legitimate violence” into an already tense political climate. Incidents like the June acquittal of the Minnesota police officer who shot Philando Castile, a legal gun owner, during a traffic stop have added to that tension, gun owners like Smith say – as did the National Rifle Association’s silence over both his shooting and the verdict.

For some black gun owners, the question is a stark one: Can African-Americans reasonably expect to be covered by the Second Amendment in a country still marbled by racist rhetoric, attitudes, and acts?

In one way, “it is saddening and troubling how much hopelessness there must be to make such a massive shift to decide guns might be a necessary answer” to a documented rise in overt racism, says Nancy Beck Young, a political historian at the University of Houston.

Two events that changed things

The shooting of Mr. Castile and the election of President Trump changed things for Dickson “Q” Amoah, a former Air Force reservist from the outskirts of Chicago.

Like Smith, Mr. Amoah says his parents were vehemently anti-gun. To this day, he says, “Honestly I still think that getting rid of all these excess guns in Chicago and the country would be a good thing.”

Then he saw the white nationalist salute of “Hail Trump” near the White House in January. His first thought was: “Oh, hell no.”

For him, carrying a gun has become a test of a stereotype, as Professor Young says, “built on the myth of what the black man was after and what he might do.”

“I used to worry about what people thought of me as a black man,” says Amoah, the president of the 761st Gun Club of Illinois. As a gun-carrier, he says, “Now, I just don’t care anymore.”

Michigan gun boards

The extent of the risk legally armed black men take to carry guns is hard to measure. The Washington Post has found that unarmed black men are 2.5 times more likely to be killed by police than unarmed white men. But there are no hard studies on that have looked at how officers react to armed black men versus armed white ones. Moreover, privacy laws prohibit deep-dive studies of gun registration data to look for patterns by race.

But Ms. Carlson, author of “Citizen-Protectors: The Everyday Politics of Guns in an Age of Decline,” found a proxy in administrative “gun boards” that exist in several states to adjudicate gun license issues. She found differences in how gun boards operated in Michigan's majority-black Wayne County and majority-white Oakland County. Black concealed-carry applicants in Wayne were routinely lectured and quizzed in public forums – what she calls “degradation ceremonies.” White gun owners in Oakland, meanwhile, were addressed without lectures in hearings where they could plead their case in a semi-private room. (Michigan has since done away with the gun boards.)

Her findings suggest such proceedings for concealed-carry licenses now “serve as mechanisms ... to encourage black men to internalize their position at the bottom of the racial ... hierarchy.”

That evidence, she says, underscores how some policing strategies, like stop-and-frisk, “only work if you can presume that the guns that are being carried are illegal,” says Carlson. In that way, “gun laws change the ordering of how people think about danger in a way that is way beyond whether there is a gun there or not.”

Historical attitudes

Only about half as many African-American households have guns as white ones – 19 percent, compared with 41 percent. And attitudes toward guns remain starkly divided along racial lines. Sixty percent of black voters favor more gun control, while 61 percent of white voters seek more gun rights.

That reflects a deep resistance to guns in African-American communities that goes back to the civil rights era, when blacks, often victims of gun crimes, began to see gun ownership as counterproductive and dangerous. But that doesn't tell the whole story, gun-carry proponents say.

“You dig and you realize the civil rights movement wasn’t just a nonviolent movement,” counters Amoah. “The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was a gun carrier. And you look at Malcolm X differently. He was a self-defense guy.”

Smith in Atlanta says he has had heated debates with preachers over his gun carry advocacy. To some, it seems a reprise of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense movement, which led to a wave of gun control laws in the US. After 30 of its members marched, armed and defiant, into the California state capitol in 1967, then-Gov. Ronald Reagan, who ran for president as a staunch Second Amendment defender, signed a law prohibiting open carry in the state.

Second Amendment vs. the whole Bill of Rights

Scholars say that Second Amendment rights for African-Americans cannot be fought for separately from other rights.

“No. 1, Philando Castile was seeking to show an officer his permit when he was killed, so having a gun is not an escape from being killed,” says historian Gerald Horne, author of “The Counter-Revolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States of America. “But while that case suggests that African-Americans’ Second Amendment rights are not worth as much as those of others, it also brings us to the devalued citizenship of black Americans in 2017. In order to re-value that citizenship it will take a political movement that goes beyond Second Amendment rights and focuses on the whole panoply of rights generally.”

The coast-to-coast growth of NAAGA chapters from a handful to 32 in less than two years seems to mirror a shift, partly a generational one, in that thinking. The number of blacks who prioritize gun rights over gun control rose from 18 percent in 1993 to 34 percent in 2014, according to the Pew Research Center.

Black-owned gun shops say they have seen business increase in the last six months, even as gun sales overall have softened, leading to price cuts of more than 50 percent.

At 280 pounds, Louis Dennard says he can be an intimidating presence – until people get to know him as the kind-hearted gardener and pitmaster that he is.

His worry is that racist stereotypes get enshrined into law, under a president who openly questioned former President Barack Obama’s citizenship and, in Mr. Dennard's view, is basing his legacy on dismantling the work of the country’s first black president. “Right now, they are in the process of prejudicing the system,” he says.

Though the growth of his gun club is tied to national politics, Smith is careful to not focus his advocacy on the president or the NRA. He says his toughest critics, so far, have been others in the African-American community, who don’t see a strong correlation between the Second Amendment and a sense of full citizenship.

“I’m trying to let everyone know that you have the right – not the God-given right, but the right as an American – to carry a gun,” says Smith. “We have things to overcome in the black community in terms of what you believe you have a right to do as a citizen.

“My job is to convince people that it is not radical to have a gun ... to protect your family.”

Clarification: This article was updated to clarify that Michigan has since abolished its gun boards.


4. As Cambodia's economy surges, are land rights being left behind?

By some indicators, Cambodia is making great economic strides. Can we call it progress if it's built on injustice and inequality?


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Today in Phnom Penh, skyscrapers and malls illustrate Cambodia’s ongoing economic transformation. Almost 40 years after the fall of the Khmer Rouge, the capital is booming, annual economic growth is almost 7 percent, and the poverty rate is steadily dropping. But 45 minutes south, where about 50 families live along a tree-lined irrigation dyke, is a different side of the development story: uncertain land rights. In Cambodia, land claims are often unclear – a legacy, in part, of the Khmer Rouge, which abolished private property in its quest to turn the country into a mythological agrarian utopia. And today, nearly 17 percent of Cambodia’s land has been granted to companies in long-term leases of state land, meant to spur development. But those concessions have adversely affected about 700,000 Cambodians, according to human rights advocates. Many more live in legal limbo – like the families in this village. Officials tout Cambodia’s growth as a sign of improved living standards, but that “masks the actual distribution,” says Sophal Ear, an associate professor at Occidental College. “The authorities have managed to use land rights to give the wrong people the land: tycoons and the powerful.”


As Cambodia's economy surges, are land rights being left behind?

The squatters who call this narrow raised strip of red clay home are largely not here by choice.

Some have left behind drought-affected farmland in the country’s south. Others have nowhere else to live, after falling into debt.

The 4.5-mile irrigation dyke, constructed with forced labor when the Khmer Rouge regime controlled Cambodia between 1975 and 1979, offered a small piece of free land on which to attempt to rebuild their lives.

Just 45 minutes north by car lies the booming capital, Phnom Penh, where skyscrapers and malls illustrate Cambodia’s ongoing economic transformation: today, the country enjoys about 7 percent annual economic growth, and the number of Cambodians living under the poverty line is steadily dropping. But as land has been bought up, it often comes at the expense of residents’ land rights. Claims to land here are often unclear, in part a legacy of the brutal Khmer Rouge regime, and the loss of rights is exacerbated by long-term state land leases to business investors, human rights groups say, despite a moratorium imposed in 2012.

Officials tout Cambodia’s growth as a sign of improved living standards, but that “masks the actual distribution,” says Sophal Ear, a Cambodia expert and associate professor at Occidental College in Los Angeles. “The authorities have managed to use land rights to give the wrong people the land: tycoons and the powerful.”

Confusion about land rights has combined with agro-industrial development to make alleged land grabs a persistent problem. In what’s touted as a bid for growth, the government has utilized long-term leases of state land to private companies, which now account for almost 17 percent of the country’s land. Some 700,000 Cambodians have been adversely affected by these economic land concessions (ELCs), according to the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, and many more live in legal limbo – like the families in this village.

Most villagers have certificates conveying ‘soft’ land title that are meant to ensure compensation or relocation if the government moves them, but many don’t have the nationally recognized ‘hard’ titles, says Meach Mean, who moved to Praek Tanoub in the mid-1990s. Some long-term residents, however, have neither.

“Everyone has experienced hardship [in Cambodia]” says Meach, now in his 70s. “I wouldn’t want to live on the dyke [with the squatter families], but I understand what may have forced them to live here.”

A roof, but no title

The tree-lined dyke is flanked by a patchwork of verdant rice and lotus fields, and is home to about 50 families, according to long-time resident Hong Pov. She and her family moved here in 1997 after they found themselves unable to meet loan repayments for their fish-farming business. The sides of the dyke provided the only unused land in the area on which to live.

“When we arrived there were 15 families. Now it's 50,” she explains, showing off the home they built four years ago for $2,000: metal sheeting for walls and roof, supported by a simple wooden frame; rough wooden floorboards; and decorated with family photos. Hong is resigned to the fact that this will be her home from now on.

“There is no choice,” she said, as she cannot afford to buy land anywhere. Because her husband has a longstanding illness, she is the family’s only breadwinner, earning less than $15 per week as a pot-washer at nearby weddings.

Unlike villagers, the dyke families lack official titles to the land on which they live, despite many having lived there for at least five years before 2001 – the prerequisite for the land-titling process to begin. Hong, who claims the government only makes an effort to issue land titles in more remote provinces, says she was given a ‘soft title’ certificate in 2005, but cannot locate it.

Village chief Von Pheach stresses that the families on the dyke may continue to live where they are, although provincial authorities have barred any new residents.

However, “they are not landless in the normal sense,” he adds. “Many of them sold their land elsewhere due to debt. They destroyed themselves, and then had to move there.”

Years in the making

Throughout Cambodia, land-rights conflicts stand poised to grow: the continued growth of Phnom Penh means land is at a particularly high premium nearby, with ‘new’ land created by filling the last remaining lakes of this former swamp with sand.

But land rights have been a persistent problem since the Khmer Rouge came to power on April 17, 1975, following a bloody civil war against the United States-supported government. The regime sought to turn Cambodia into a mythological agrarian utopia, and emptied the country’s cities – including Phnom Penh – to achieve this. Millions were moved into the countryside and were forced to construct large-scale farming projects centered around communal living and eating. Money was banned, private property abolished, and all land titles were voided.

The combination of civil war, American bombing, and the executions and forced work perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge not only led to the fragmentation of Cambodian society, but also left as many as 3 million people dead. The regime was removed from power in 1979, but the country’s recovery was hindered the group’s long-running guerrilla conflict, which did not formally end until 1998.

Since then, Cambodia has risen to qualify as a “lower middle-income” country, by World Bank standards, with one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. But if the land concessions known as ELCs – which include sugar cane plantations, cassava processing plants, mines, and tourism attractions – have contributed to that development, they have also compounded land-rights issues.

“With secure property rights for the rightful owners, you could have much higher growth,” says Dr. Ear. “Short-termism has always been a problem in Cambodia. When you think you might lose power, your discount rate is high. The future is worth less than the present.”

Along with resident displacement, ELCs can contribute to deforestation and loss of livelihood: In a country where almost 50 percent of adults work in agriculture, those without land can find themselves exiled to the extremes of society.

“It is not clear to what extent the people of Cambodia have actually benefited from land concessions,” Surya Subedi, the former UN Special Rapporteur for human rights in Cambodia, wrote in a 2012 report, calling for ELCs to be better-documented and land laws better implemented.

Education and enforcement

Five years ago, Prime Minister Hun Sen imposed a moratorium on new ELCs, promising an investigation into existing concessions; the government also began a land-titling initiative. As of 2016, 4.3 million land titles, or 61 percent of total land plots, had been recognized, according to a paper from the Foreign Affairs Ministry. Licenses for a number of ELCs found not in compliance with their investment conditions were revoked, but rights groups argue that the government has never published a full list of the agreements.

Much of the problem, rights groups say, boils down to enforcing the law, and better education around land rights. Technically, anyone who inhabited land for five years before 2001, when a land law went into effect, may apply for a title. Most people do not know how to obtain formal documentation, however, according to a 2015 US State Department report, which criticizes an official Cambodian commission for failing to clearly identify state land.

“There has been a lack of political will to respect ownership through occupation and titling programs have frequently fallen far short of genuinely respecting the rights of Cambodians,” says Naly Pilorge, the deputy director of advocacy at local rights group Licadho. Political and economic interests often take precedence, she says, and authorities arbitrarily ignore land laws.

Meanwhile, human rights groups have accused the government of targeting land-rights activists with threats, violence, and arrests, while entire communities have been subject to forced evictions and relocation.

For now, at Praek Tanoub, residents are free to stay.

Retired vegetable farmer Nut Yaen, who was born here seven decades ago, says he would love to have official title, to pass his land onto his children. However, he accepts that that is unlikely. For his day-to-day life, the lack of proof that he legally owns the land on which he has lived for decades does not bother him.

“I like it here; it is my hometown. I wouldn’t live anywhere else.”

Huot Chanpav contributed additional reporting from Preak Tanoub.


5. Mary’s story: Exclusion, forgiveness, persistence, reward

Our next story is about hope, perseverance, and overcoming hate. It’s a remarkable tale that brought one Monitor editor to tears.

Marcus R. Donner
Mary Matsuda Gruenewald reacted as Vashon Island High School’s principal, Danny Rock, told her story at a graduation ceremony June 17 on Vashon Island in Washington. She was in an internment camp for Japanese-Americans in 1943 when she should have graduated with her class.

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When Mary Matsuda was 17 years old, soldiers forced her family off their strawberry farm on Vashon Island in Washington and into the first of four internment camps. In addition to losing her home and freedom, she also lost the chance to graduate from her high school. “My friends accompanied me to the ferry,” Mary, now 92, recalls. “I thought, ‘I’ll never see Vashon again.’ It felt like there was a part of my heart that was wrenched away from me, and I didn’t think I would ever get it back.” On June 17, some 75 years after Executive Order 9066 expelled her from the island, Mary donned her cap and gown – the green, black, and gold of the Vashon High Pirates – and joined the class of 2017 on the football field. Danny Rock, the principal, says this story of graduation delayed is more than just another feel-good tale of a plucky senior citizen. “Mary’s story is certainly connected to the larger story about the fear of ‘others’ we’re seeing now,” he says, “and our students recognize this. As soon as her wheelchair came out onto the track, no one had to say a word. But there was a standing ovation.”


Mary’s story: Exclusion, forgiveness, persistence, reward

For 17-year-old Mary Matsuda, a not-so-funny thing happened on the way to her high-school graduation: Soldiers armed with rifles and bayonets forced Mary to abandon her family’s strawberry farm here, weeks before the end of her junior year at Vashon High.

It was May 16, 1942, and Mary, along with 110 others of Japanese-American ancestry, were “evacuated” from this bucolic agricultural island in the Puget Sound and sent to the first of four federal internment camps Mary would inhabit during World War II.

“My friends accompanied me to the ferry,” Mary, now 92, recalls. “They stood on the dock, waving, and I stood on the boat, waving, and I was crying and I thought, ‘I’ll never see Vashon again.’ It felt like there was a part of my heart that was wrenched away from me, and I didn’t think I would ever get it back.”

Of course, the war did finally end. Despite raising a family, authoring three books, and retiring after what many would describe as a luminous career in health care, Mary felt incomplete. One simple prize she lacked gnawed at her.

“Earlier this spring, Mary and I were visiting Vashon Island,” says Linda Ando, a longtime friend. “Mary told me, ‘I have few regrets, but one of them is that I never got a chance to graduate with my class, with my peers at Vashon High.’ ”

Matsuda/Gruenewald Collection
Matsuda Family in 1933.

Secretly, Ms. Ando contacted Danny Rock, principal at Vashon Island High School. “I went rummaging around in our files,” he says, “and I found her grades and her cumulative file.” The yellowed sheet showed a student with a 3.7 grade point average, as well as perfect attendance and membership in the honor society. He called and said, “Yes, we can do that. We can make her a graduate.”

Principals have “quite a bit of power” in Washington State, Mr. Rock points out. “That’s not true in every state, but I have the power to issue a diploma.”

When Mary learned she would at last graduate, “She was just so overcome with emotions,” Ando says. “She called me eight or nine times the day after she learned what was happening.”

So on June 17, some 75 years after Executive Order 9066 expelled Mary from the island, Mary donned her cap and gown – the green, black, and gold of the Vashon High Pirates – and joined the Class of 2017 on the football field as a light rain drizzled. (Her son, Ray Gruenewald, pushed his mom onto the field in a wheelchair.)

Rock says Mary’s story of graduation delayed is more than just another feel-good story tale of a plucky senior citizen. “Mary’s story is certainly connected to the larger story about the fear of ‘others’ we’re seeing now,” Rock says, “and our students recognize this. As soon as her wheelchair came out onto the track, no one had to say a word. But there was a standing ovation.”

When Rock addressed the graduates and their families, he proclaimed, “Mary, you may think that we’re doing something special for you today, and that may be so, but the deeper truth is that you are giving us a gift rarely given: the gift of time, the gift of life, and the gift of hope that whatever our story includes, whatever challenges we face in our past and in our future, our story is never over.”

Mary wiped away tears as the school presented her with a 1943 diploma as well as a photocopy of the 1943 yearbook, along with a 2017 yearbook signed by this year’s grads.

“She’s really strong to finish what she started, despite being taken away from Vashon at such a young age,” says Linnet Chappelka, 18, one of those new graduates, who played on the school’s tennis team and was president of the Spanish Club. “For us the history seemed so far away; what happened to the Japanese-Americans seemed very distant.

“But seeing her here, seeing the effects of the war so up-close and personal, it really showed us the real-world impact on the Japanese-Americans – the atrocity of what happened,” Ms. Chappelka says.

Proving her principal’s point – that Mary’s return to Vashon High was significant to the students – Chappelka added, “We can’t be against a whole group just because they’re an ‘other,’ and we can’t judge a whole group of people based on the actions of a few.

“As a society, I don’t think we learn – because we sweep unpleasant things we’ve done under the carpet,” she continues. “So we’re ashamed of what we’ve done and we don’t want to remember it. But the whole point of history is to know what we’ve done in the past, and what mistakes we’ve made – and not repeat them.”

Matsuda Gruenewald Collection
Mary and her brother, Yoneichi, in uniform at Minidoka before Yoneichi left for combat in Europe in 1944. Mary was in nursing school.

In her ninth decade, Mary Matsuda Gruenewald has forgotten little. Her Vashon High diploma was not the first she received. She also “graduated” from a school of sorts in the camp at Tule Lake. But she scoffs at that piece of paper.

“You graduate from high school in the camps, and you can’t go off and do anything,” she says, “because you’re surrounded by barbed wire. I got the diploma, but I was still in camp. You want to celebrate that?

“Vashon is the place where I grew up. That was the place where the community embraced us as one of them,” she says. “I have earned many, many, many awards along the way – and the diploma from Vashon is certainly among the biggest.”

Most today don’t realize the internment camps were not exactly prisons; some Japanese-Americans were able to leave. They just weren’t allowed to return to the West Coast, where officials claimed they might assist any Japanese forces that might invade.

When she was at Heart Mountain internment camp in Wyoming, Mary decided to become a nurse. Supported by $250 from a scholarship fund created by other internees, Mary joined the US Cadet Nurse Corps, traveled to Clinton, Iowa, and began her training. The war ended before she could serve. (Her brother, Yoneichi, enlisted in the legendary 442nd infantry regiment, a mostly Japanese-American unit that fought savagely against the Nazis in Italy, southern France, and Germany.)

Eventually, Mary married Charles Gruenewald, a minister, and made her way back to Seattle, where she went to work for Group Health Cooperative, one of the first consumer-governed health maintenance organizations. Working as night-shift administrator, she found herself answering “call after call after call” from patients wanting advice about health worries at all hours.

From this, Mary came up with the visionary idea of the “consulting nurse,” a 24-hour service that members could call anytime to get advice without needing to see a physician. The idea grew so popular that it spread to other health-care organizations across the country and, eventually, the world.

When Mary turned 70, she took up writing. Her first book, “Looking Like the Enemy: My Story of Imprisonment in Japanese-American internment Camps,” made it to manuscript form around the time of the 9/11 attacks in Manhattan and Washington, D.C. Mary’s publisher at New Sage Press, Maureen Michelson, says Mary was worried about the anti-Muslim fervor those attacks generated, and “was very driven at that point to get this story about Japanese-Americans into print, because, she told me, ‘We can’t let the imprisonment of minority groups happen again.’ ”

Mary followed up that first book with a young reader’s edition of “Looking Like the Enemy” that was nominated by the American Library Association as a Best Book for Young Adults, and later with a volume titled “Becoming Mama-San: 80 Years of Wisdom.”

Thinking back on the events of 75 years ago, Mary says, “War was coming on the horizon, and ‘they’ needed someone to blame. Japanese-Americans were just a convenient scapegoat.

“I feel for the Muslims now,” she says, “because I think they’re in the same spot that we were in. You feel totally helpless, and you don’t know if people will come to your defense. But I still believe in the American way of life – and the strength of that is in the people who live here.

“One can always hope.”


The Monitor's View

How Germany forced a rethink of Africa

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At the recent Group of 20 summit, German Chancellor Angela Merkel won support from most of the world’s wealthiest nations for a major boost in private investment for Africa. It would come through partnerships with the most reform-minded countries on the continent. Dubbed the “Merkel Plan” (a play on America’s Marshall Plan that revived postwar Germany), the initiative aims to shift global thinking: For all its must-discussed troubles, from famine to dictatorships, Africa holds immense promise. Half of its 54 countries have reached middle-income status. And compared with Asia and Latin America, Africa has the largest share of adults running or starting a new business. Mass migration may have been what pushed Germany to focus on Africa’s crises. But it also looked at its past neglect of Africa – and at the potential for investment.


How Germany forced a rethink of Africa

Just this year alone, an estimated 400,000 African migrants will flee to Germany, escaping either war or poverty, or both. If nothing is done, officials warn, millions more could arrive in coming years. Yet rather than simply seek solutions in Africa to this flood of humanity, Germany decided last year to first tally up its own indifference toward the continent.

Among the 400,000 companies in Germany, fewer than 1,000 invest in Africa, officials found. And Germany’s trade with Africa amounts to only 2 percent of its total foreign trade.

“That has to change!” declared Gerd Müller, Germany’s development minister, in February.

This humble introspection may help explain why German Chancellor Angela Merkel was so successful at the Group of 20 summit on July 7-8 in winning support from most of the world’s wealthiest nations for a major boost in private investment for Africa. Dubbed the “Merkel Plan” (a play on America’s Marshall Plan that revived postwar Germany), the initiative aims to shift global thinking about the business opportunities in Africa. Only then can investment in both entrepreneurs and infrastructure rise, helping to create jobs and discourage migration.

“We must change the lenses with which we look at Africa, from the traditional development mind-set to an investment mind-set,” says Akinwumi Adesina, president of the African Development Bank.

Germany’s approach is to have G20 countries set a few models for Africa by partnering with the most reform-minded countries, such as Ghana, Ivory Coast, Rwanda, and Tunisia. Money will be given to fight corruption, curb capital flight, and improve tax systems – all necessary to reduce business risk in Africa. “We’re trying to put the spirit of partnership into the foreground,” said Ms. Merkel.

For all its troubles, from famine to dictatorships, Africa remains a gold mine as a potential workforce. By 2050, it will be home to more than one-quarter of the global population. Half of its 54 countries have reached middle-income status. And compared with Asia and Latin America, Africa has the largest share of adults running or starting a new business.

Such opportunities explain why Germany calls its plan “Compact with Africa.” Both sides must be responsible to act. Mass migration may have pushed Germany to focus on the continent’s crises. But it also looked at its past neglect of Africa – and the potential for investment.


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.

Meeting human needs

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The Bible brings out the fundamental point that God cares for humanity’s needs – whether it’s love or food. But what role do we play in proving that God meets human needs? At a time when she was unemployed and experiencing lack, contributor Carol Rounds learned firsthand that giving to others enabled her to understand and prove God’s care for herself and those she helped. As she focused more on giving, she quickly found a job that led to full-time and rewarding employment. The Bible says, “now at this time your abundance may be a supply for their want, that their abundance also may be a supply for your want: that there may be equality” (II Corinthians 8:14).


Meeting human needs

A fundamental point the Bible brings out is that God cares for humanity’s needs – whether it’s a need for love or a more basic need such as food.

As we consider this we might ask, how do we prove, or demonstrate, this to be true? Some insight on this question may be found in the book of Isaiah: “if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul;... the Lord shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought,... and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not” (58:10, 11).

To me this says that unselfish giving and love for others bring to light the ever-present good that flows from God to everyone. Giving of ourselves enables us to understand and prove that care for ourselves and others. It’s not that God wasn’t taking care of us before, but rather, being unselfish, kind, and loving transforms our thinking from a feeling of God’s absence to the realization of divine Love’s ever-presence.

During a period of unemployment and lack in my life, I turned to the Bible and was led to a couple of verses in II Corinthians, Chapter 8. In this section of the Apostle Paul’s letter, he is entreating the Christians at Corinth to help the Christians at Jerusalem in whatever way they can. The whole chapter is about giving. Verse 14 reads: “now at this time your abundance may be a supply for their want, that their abundance also may be a supply for your want: that there may be equality.”

The verses I read led me to realize that no matter what situation we are in, we always have something to give. This giving not only blesses others, but it also blesses us. It helps us feel God’s goodness, where a sense of despair or darkness may have formerly held sway, and this change in thought brings good into our experience in practical ways that meet our need.

As I understood my situation through this inspiration – that a feeling of the absence of God’s love and care in my life could be dissolved by looking outward – I found ways to freely give of the talents that I had. As I did that, I quickly found a part-time job, which soon led to full-time and rewarding employment.

I continue to look for fresh ways to meet the needs of others. This always results in a mutual blessing and a deeper trust in divine Love’s care for all.

The Monitor’s founder, Mary Baker Eddy, made this statement: “Divine Love always has met and always will meet every human need” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 494).



A nap-in-a-box

Jason Lee/Reuters
An IT worker prepares for a lunch-break snooze in a capsule bed at Xiangshui Space in Beijing today. The start-up 'capsule hotel' – among a growing number that offer private pods for napping at about $1.50 per half-hour – launched in May and quickly expanded to Shanghai and Chengdu.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte. )

In Our Next Issue

( July 12th, 2017 )

David Clark Scott
Audience Engagement Editor

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