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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.

2017
October
11
Wednesday
Yvonne Zipp
Deputy Daily Editor

Why didn’t they tell anyone?

The question is almost reflexive after any revelation of sexual harassment or assault – and it arrived right on cue during mounting allegations against former Miramax head Harvey Weinstein by actors including Gwyneth Paltrow, Ashley Judd, and Angelina Jolie and multiple Miramax employees.

Well, many of them did. Model Ambra Battilana Gutierrez went to police and wore a wire in 2015. The disturbing audio was released by The New Yorker. No charges were filed. Eight women reportedly received settlements. Ms. Paltrow told her then-boyfriend, Brad Pitt, who confronted Mr. Weinstein.

A spokeswoman has issued a blanket denial, saying, “Any allegations of non-consensual sex are unequivocally denied by Mr. Weinstein.”

The Italian director and actor Asia Argento, who says Weinstein sexually assaulted her in 1997, wrote a scene in her 2000 movie, “Scarlet Diva,” that observers say mirrors her allegations. She notes one heartbreaking difference: “In the movie I wrote,” she told The New Yorker, “I ran away.”

Ms. Argento’s decision, both to come forward and to use art as a vehicle to exorcise pain, has parallels with that of Artemisia Gentileschi, a 17th-century painter. After she was raped by a fellow artist, she confronted him in court – where she was tortured to ensure she was telling the truth. She since has become an icon for both her courage and her paintings of strong women, such as “Judith Slaying Holofernes.”

Whether a minimum-wage worker or an Oscar winner, people deserve the right to earn a living in peace. Those who have been sexually harassed or assaulted are neither weak nor complicit. And they have nothing to be ashamed of.

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Now, for our five stories that show resiliency, perseverance, and artistic expression.

1. Within Trump’s base, permission to deal on Dreamers

While you wouldn't know it from listening to the populist wing, many Trump supporters say they have no problem with the president making a deal on immigration. These voters say they follow the man, not a particular ideology.

Yvonne
Twin DACA students Juliana (l.) and Laura Piñeros, whose family came to the US from Colombia, gather their books before heading to class at Eastern Connecticut State University on Oct. 3 in Willimantic. Private scholarships from TheDream.US allow 104 DACA students to attend ECSU. This is the second year the competitive scholarships have been offered.
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Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
 

The 30 Sec. ReadOn Sunday, the White House presented Congress with a long list of immigration enforcement must-haves for any legislation that would allow unauthorized young people, or “Dreamers” – about 800,000 of them – to legally stay in the United States. The list includes a southern border wall, which was reportedly not part of the loose framework worked out over a presidential dinner with congressional Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Charles Schumer last month. Yet many on Capitol Hill are viewing these demands as merely an opening bid in the negotiations, and not reflective of what the president may actually be willing to accept in the end. And indeed, when it comes to the president’s base of voters, he may have a surprising amount of latitude to negotiate – a finding that is backed by recent national polling, as well as a range of interviews the Monitor conducted with Trump supporters from deep-red Alabama. They view President Trump’s negotiating with Democrats as part of his dealmaking persona, and a necessary part of governing – particularly when he is getting so little help from his own party. “The president has to deal with whomever is in government. That’s the way government is. People have to deal,” says Ken Brittin, of Montgomery, Ala., who is retired from the Air Force.

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1. Within Trump’s base, permission to deal on Dreamers

When President Trump reportedly cut a deal with Democrats last month to allow young undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children to remain in this country, prominent voices from the right – from Breitbart's Steve Bannon to conservative commentator Ann Coulter – exploded with criticism, calling the deal “amnesty.”

On Sunday, the president seemed to give in to the pressure, presenting Congress with a long list of immigration enforcement demands in return for any legislation that would allow these young people – about 800,000 of them – to stay legally in the US. The list includes a southern border wall, which was reportedly not part of the loose framework worked out over a presidential dinner with congressional Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Charles Schumer last month.

Yet many on Capitol Hill are viewing these demands as merely an opening bid in the negotiations, and not reflective of what the president may actually be willing to accept in the end. And indeed, when it comes to the president’s base of voters, he may have a surprising amount of latitude to negotiate – a finding that is backed by recent national polling, as well as a range of interviews the Monitor conducted with Trump supporters from deep-red Alabama.

President Trump and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D) of New York meet with other Congressional leaders in the Oval Office at the White House on Sept. 6.
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Evan Vucci/AP

“This is a wish list that was sent over from a couple people in his administration, and most people here understand that. They also know that a lot of that couldn’t even pass, just taking Republicans into account. Obviously, Democrats wouldn’t vote for it either,” says Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R) of Florida.

The congressman is part of a group of House Republicans tasked by Speaker Paul Ryan (R) of Wisconsin to codify the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, also known as DACA. Last month, Mr. Trump announced that the program, begun by President Barack Obama through executive action, will be phased out starting in March. He has called it unconstitutional, and thrown it to Congress to work out.

“Opposing a permanent solution for Dreamers in our country is a fringe position,” Congressman Curbelo says. “And most of the president’s supporters agree with affording these young immigrants the opportunity to stay here.”

Leeway from supporters

Indeed, that’s what the Monitor found in talking with supporters of Trump during rallies for GOP Senate candidates as Alabama neared a run-off election last month. The state is hugely pro-Trump as well as strongly against illegal immigration.

In more than 15 interviews, nearly all Trump supporters said they were fine with the president negotiating with Democrats – either on immigration, or generally. They viewed the outreach as part of his deal-making persona, and a necessary part of governing – particularly when he is getting so little help from his own party. 

“The president has to deal with whomever is in government. That’s the way government is. People have to deal,” says Ken Brittin, of Montgomery, who is retired from the Air Force.

People work in San Diego at the construction site of prototypes for President Trump's border wall with Mexico in this picture taken from the Mexican side of the border in Tijuana Oct. 3.
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Jorge Duenes/Reuters

Speaking of DACA, he said that Trump “has sympathy for these people,” who are often described as contributors to society caught in an illegal limbo through no fault of their own.

Mr. Brittin says Trump is rightly getting Congress to work this out, because Mr. Obama had no authority to enact a program that lets undocumented immigrants stay and work in the US. 

That’s not to say Trump supporters such as Brittin are weak on border security. Far from it. Others interviewed insisted that the president not give up his immigration goals, and one said enforcement has to come before a Dreamer deal. But most just spoke generally about the need for stronger enforcement and were open to Trump working out something on the young immigrants.

“I’m not bothered” by the president reaching out to Democrats on Dreamers, said Steve Fair, of Huntsville, waiting with his wife to get into a Trump rally. As for the wall, Mr. Fair says he’s not “hung up” on it. “I didn’t vote for him just because of the wall. It has to be practical. You have to have a starting point. You can answer the problem a ton of ways.” 

Trump himself explained that at the rally. “You don’t need it all the way,” he told a packed civic center. A river and mountains are also “natural barriers,” he said. Still, there will be more wall, he insisted, describing four samples of “see-through” barrier that the administration is considering. 

Polls suggest 'Dreamer' support

The definition of a wall aside, most Americans – even Trump supporters – think Dreamers should be allowed to stay, according to a Politico/Morning Consult poll last month. Among Republicans, 69 percent think Dreamers should be allowed to stay, along with 84 percent of Democrats and 74 percent of independents. Among self-identified Trump supporters, two-thirds think these immigrants should be allowed to stay, according to the poll.

A new poll released on Tuesday also found strong support for Dreamers, with more than 60 percent favoring them staying in the US legally, according to the Associated Press/NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. It found fewer Republicans supporting, though – upwards of 40 percent. 

Curbelo is confident that a deal will emerge, along the lines generally assumed before the White House sent its list on Sunday. That is, Dreamers could legally stay (though a path to citizenship is an open question), as long as border security is enhanced.

“This is going to get done. Some people might make it more difficult, but this is going to get done,” he says.

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2. Hurricane Harvey may have Texas rethinking how it spends

Frugality, especially when it comes to the government, is a tenet of conservative thought. But after hurricane Harvey, some GOP lawmakers are considering whether the definition of financial prudence should expand to include paying to minimize the effect of future floods.

Yvonne
 

The 30 Sec. ReadIn trying to help the residents of the fourth-largest city in the United States rebuild, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner is hoping for a significant show of financial support from the state – a show of support he knows the state isn’t used to making. “This is when people see what government does,” he told a state appropriations committee. “And government only functions with the resources.” In the grand scheme of Harvey recovery, it seems a question of how, not if, Texans will reevaluate some of the state’s core principles around issues like fiscal restraint. This is not to say that the Lone Star State is going on a spending spree, but some experts see a growing sense among some lawmakers that financial prudence could include preventive measures. “We’re seeing [that] very Republican or fiscally conservative voters, [and] fiscally conservative public officials, are in agreement that some changes will have to be made,” says Renée Cross of the University of Houston. “ ‘Taxes’ is such a dirty word down here in particular, I would be hesitant to say that” Harvey changed the debate, says Professor Cross. That said, the definition of fiscal responsibility appears to be shifting in Texas. How far remains to be seen.

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2. Hurricane Harvey may have Texas rethinking how it spends

Standing outside the Greenspoint Mall in North Houston, under a swelling mass of gray clouds, Nicole Turner reflects on the month she’s had. The single mom of four works for an oil and gas company and takes care of her mother. Then hurricane Harvey brought 52 inches of rain in four days.

Ms. Turner’s house flooded to the point where walls needed to be ripped out. The six of them are still living amid the damage.

“I’m just trying to keep upbeat and keep going,” she says. “Yup.”

That includes taking the day off work and waking up before dawn to get to the mall more than three hours before the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) disaster recovery center there opens. By 11 a.m., with the clouds thickening and starting to drizzle rain, Turner is still in line.

Like many of the hundreds of others lining up with her, she’s looking for any assistance she can get for her family. (“Just some help,” she says.) And while she hasn’t had much time to think about the broader implications of the storm, there’s one aspect of the recovery debate she – and many others in line – has a firm opinion on.

“I’m a native Houstonian so I’ve seen us flood a couple times,” she says. “I definitely think that they should put some money into the sewer system, because if they don’t it’s going to happen again.”

In recent years, high-cost investments in projects that could prevent or mitigate future flooding haven’t seemed a priority for many Texas congressmen, committed as they are to fiscal conservatism and limited government spending. (Several of those projects were in the works before Harvey, but stalled due to a lack of federal funding.)

That appears to have changed. The Texas delegation is now requesting billions of dollars for long-term flood mitigation projects from Washington. In the grand scheme of Harvey recovery, it seems a question of how, not if, Texans will re-evaluate some of the state’s core principles around issues like taxation and the role of government. This is not to say the Lone Star state is going on a spending spree, but experts see a growing sense among some lawmakers that fiscal prudence could include preventive measures.

“We’re seeing [that] very Republican or fiscally conservative voters, [and] fiscally conservative public officials, are in agreement that some changes will have to be made,” says Renée Cross, associate director of the Hobby School of Public Affairs at the University of Houston.

Commitment to fiscal conservatism

In a letter sent to the leaders of the US House and Senate appropriations committees last week, nearly all of the Texas delegation called for $18.7 billion more in federal funding for Harvey relief. More than half of those funds should be to help construct infrastructure to prevent and mitigate damage from future storms, the letter requested.

And while those investments may seem less urgent than funds for immediate problems like debris removal, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner told a state appropriations committee otherwise last week.

“Now people are thinking of the question of: Should they rebuild where they’ve been, or should they go somewhere else? And if people don’t know if we’ll really be moving forward on mitigation projects that could take their home out of the floodplain, then we’re not giving them much hope,” he told the state House Committee on Appropriations at a hearing in Houston last week.

Mr. Turner, for his part, is hoping for a more significant show of financial support from the state – a show of support he knows the state isn’t used to making.

“This is when people see what government does,” he said. “And government only functions with the resources.”

Whether the Texas state legislature is willing to front the projects with its own money and be reimbursed later, as Turner suggested, is another question that could loom over the next few months. With the mayor estimating that expanding the bayous and constructing a third reservoir to mitigate flooding would require around $720 million, Congress could cover those costs if they give the Texas delegation the funds requested. If Congress isn’t so generous, however, the state’s fiscal conservatism will be tested further.

Despite the scale of Harvey’s damage – the storm destroyed about 40,000 homes and a million cars, with the governor estimating total damages in excess of $180 billion – Mark Jones, a fellow in political science at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy in Houston, doesn’t think the state’s own commitment to fiscal conservatism will bend too far in coming years.

“There may be [money] for an additional reservoir, some [home] buy-outs, but nothing game-changing,” he says. “I don’t expect a dramatic shift in spending patterns in Texas because of Harvey.”

Toughest spending debates still to come

There will surely be uncomfortable debates over shifting those spending patterns, however. In fact, one has already unfolded.

After Harvey hit, Gov. Greg Abbott hesitated to appropriate state funds for the recovery – including tapping its $10 billion savings account (known as the Rainy Day Fund). In response Turner proposed an emergency one-year property tax hike to raise $50 million for recovery efforts, publicly blaming Governor Abbott’s inaction.

The spat concluded two weeks ago when Abbott, a Republican, presented Turner, a Democrat, with a $50 million check taken from a $100 million disaster relief fund. Abbott says the Rainy Day Fund will be used, but only “when the expenses [of Harvey recovery] are known.” Only the state legislature can decide when and how to use the fund.

So the most difficult debates won’t begin until the state legislature reconvenes in January 2019. It is likely to be a redux of battles in Austin between fiscal conservatives and freer-spending Democrats – with some moderate conservatives in between – says Professor Jones.

“A major cleavage in Texas politics over the past six-to-10 years has been with the Rainy Day Fund,” he adds. “How much should be tapped to pay for recurring expenses like K-12 education and health care, and how much should be retained … for when we really have a rainy day?”

For Harvey recovery, “there’s a baseline amount [of the Fund] where there’s probably a pretty strong consensus,” he continues, “but when you start rising up into additional money for buyouts or reconstruction efforts, new projects, that’s where some people – especially in other parts of the state – say, ‘Wait a second.’ ”

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, (c.), with Houston Texans Shane Lechler, (l.), and J.J. Watt, (r.), distribute relief supplies to people impacted by Hurricane Harvey in Houston on Sept. 3, 2017. The Harvey relief fund established by Houston's top elected leaders has issued its first grants, giving out $7.5 million with an emphasis on getting people still displaced by the storm into temporary housing. Turner, and other leaders of the fund announced the grants Tuesday, Oct. 3.
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Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle/AP

'The most miserable tax ever created'

Of the many uncomfortable funding debates awaiting Texas politicians, perhaps none will be more sensitive than property taxes. A state cap on how much revenue cities and counties can generate from property taxes, enforced in the name of curbing excessive taxation and keeping local governments small, has been debated for years. Harvey has turned up the heat.

Turner and big city mayors across the state have long sought to ease the cap, arguing that it limits their ability to run city services effectively. In the wake of Harvey, he’s continued to press the issue.

The mayor now seems to be getting more support in softening Texans’ traditional aversion to taxes, including from colleagues across the aisle.

Ed Emmett – a judge in Harris County, which includes most of Houston, and a former Republican state legislator – said last week that he would push for a tax hike to help pay for new flood control infrastructure projects.

Property taxes are “the most miserable tax ever created,” he added. “But it’s what we’ve been given to work with, so we don’t have a choice.”

Cities and counties around Houston are also considering, or have already passed, property tax increases. Some had been planned before Harvey hit.

But while there may be support for some property tax reforms at the local level, at least on a temporary basis, more permanent changes in how Texans are taxed are seen as unlikely.

“ ‘Taxes’ is such a dirty word down here in particular, I would be hesitant to say that” Harvey changed the debate, says Professor Cross.

That said, the definition of fiscal responsibility appears to be shifting in Texas. How far remains to be seen.

“It’s rare for a Republican to be [saying] that maybe we shouldn’t be building in floodplains, maybe there should be some regulations,” says Cross. “The wounds are still fresh right now, but we’re seeing folks crossing over the aisle and agreeing with each other here on the ground.”

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3. When refugee camps become permanent enclaves

The desire to create a home is entirely human, and doesn't go away for those displaced by war. When a 'temporary' crisis lasts long enough for children to grow up and start their own families, some say, it's time to consider new solutions that don't leave people trapped in limbo.

Yvonne
The United Nations protected camp in Wau, South Sudan, is now – with almost 40,000 inhabitants – the most congested internally displaced camp in the country.
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AP
 

The 30 Sec. ReadWelcome to Camp 3. This settlement on the edge of Juba, South Sudan, has police stations and restaurants, 12 churches and a mosque, a thriving real estate market, and even hints of gentrification. Technically, though, it’s not a city – no matter how hard residents try. It’s a refugee camp, designed with short-term stays in mind: services to see people through until it’s safe to go home. But time and again, many of the world’s 65 million displaced people find that "going home" is not an option. Camp residents have finished school, gotten married, raised children, opened businesses. They’ve transformed flimsy camps into do-it-yourself cities, building lives that look more like the ones they left behind. “These are not rabbits you’re putting in cages. These are people aching to get back to their normal life, trying to reclaim their individuality,” says a former UN official. Official planning, however, remains hostage to the idea that the camps will never be permanent – and, indeed, should not be. But that could change: a move that would benefit not just refugees, but their surrounding communities.

SOURCE: UNHCR, as of Sept. 2017
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Jacob Turcotte/Staff
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3. When refugee camps become permanent enclaves

To find the movie theater in this sprawling camp for people fleeing war, take a right at the main gate, past the knot of police in full riot gear stealing bored glances at their cellphones. Go right again at the sentry tower made of shipping containers stacked up like a giant Jenga game, and then once more just past the water tap. 

There, the road opens into a wide, dusty boulevard lined with tented shops. The movie theater is a few shops in, wedged between a tea stall, a vegetable market, and a large furniture store. 

As far as cinemas go, it’s a bit cramped and more than a bit overheated, but what it lacks in facilities it makes up for with the omnivorous taste of its proprietor. Some days he screens a double feature of American professional wrestling and a Hollywood horror flick. Others it’s syrupy romances or wobbly livestreams of British soccer matches. Today, the movie is “Saving Private Ryan” cranked to a volume so loud the whole tent vibrates. 

Four years ago, this area with the cinema and the entire tent city that surrounds it was nothing but an empty field backing up against a United Nations base on the edge of South Sudan’s capital city. 

Then came civil war: a power struggle between the president and his deputy turned suddenly bloody. In the span of a single week in December 2013, about 30,000 people showed up on the UN’s doorstep here, begging for protection. Eventually, more than 200,000 people would take refuge in UN compounds countrywide. 

At first the agency guessed that the new arrivals wouldn’t stay long – a few days, maybe a week or two, just until the fighting fizzled. But as the conflict deepened, the UN and international humanitarian groups found themselves in a familiar mode: plotting the architecture of a settlement for people with nowhere to go. First came the rows of identical tents spilling across the desert, then the blocks of shared toilets and the fenced-off clearings for food distribution.

Soon, however, the temporary camps were morphing into something else – functioning cities, messy and improvised, but unmistakably urban. Inside Juba’s Protection of Civilians (POC) Camp 3, as the main displaced persons settlement here is called, there are police stations and restaurants, 12 churches and a mosque, an internal economy with its own thriving real estate market, and even hints of gentrification.

The evolution of sites like this one highlights a broader trend worldwide: Displaced people want to live in cities – places with services and a sense of permanence – and they will cobble them together from whatever they are given. But that presents a quandary to humanitarians. The very idea of a camp – as the name suggests – is as a temporary refuge, a place to be set up and torn down again. After all, everyone wants displaced people to go home; making long-term plans for housing and governance implies they never will.

“We face a real dilemma,” says Ian Ridley, head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in South Sudan. “If we publicly verbalize that the [camps] are there to stay, then they will be there to stay, because then we’re saying that we don’t see any solution to the conflict.” 

By the UN’s count, the world has some 65 million displaced people, the highest number since World War II. Many of those, including millions of South Sudanese, are fleeing conflicts with little immediate hope of resolution, which means returning home is, at best, a distant possibility.

Meanwhile, the organic transformation of many refugee settlements from flimsy camps to DIY cities has begun to push aid groups and governments to think more closely about one of the world’s most pressing humanitarian questions: What do you do with the millions of people who have no place to return to?

In Juba and the Jordanian desert, in rural Kenya and huddled along the Syrian border in southeast Turkey, displaced people themselves are offering one simple if imperfect solution: building lives – and places to live – that look more like the ones they left behind.

Displacement is a global crisis, but in few countries is it so existential as in the world’s newest nation. South Sudan was born in July 2011, cleaved off from Sudan, then Africa’s largest country, after decades of war. The conflict had left it with few schools, roads, or functional health centers. Then, just two years later, the infant nation turned on itself as factions loyal to the two political rivals tried to vanquish the other. The war that began in Juba radiated across the country.

Some civilians fled their homes and hid out in tropical forests, grasslands, and nearly impenetrable swampland. Others crossed into Uganda, Ethiopia, and even Sudan, their onetime enemy.

John Tot Malual, a doctor who had to flee the fighting in Juba, now runs a small clinic in the United Nations-run camp outside the city.
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Ryan Lenora Brown/The Christian Science Monitor

John Tot Malual, a doctor, sought refuge here, a few miles outside the capital. He fled on the second day of fighting in Juba, barely stopping to padlock the doors to his small private clinic before he ran to the UN compound. “The medicines, the beds, the laboratory, my whole working life, I left it there,” he says. “The only thing we could save then was our lives.”

Today nearly 4 million people, one-third of the population, have fled their homes. The fighting goes on, punctuated by inconclusive peace talks. The country has become so hollowed out that even if the war ended tomorrow, many of the displaced people would have nowhere to return to. And while few humanitarians have acknowledged the emerging reality of long-term displacement, for those who have fled it is already a reality. 

“It’s been almost five years. I don’t expect to go outside anytime soon,” says Nyeruop Beliew Chuol, who heads a women’s committee in POC 3. “We are like cows in a pen. You only know the things inside.”

And inside that pen, she says, life must go on. “There is no movement right now that can bring peace,” she says. “So we take care of our own affairs.”

Fleeing from war did, for a moment, flatten social divisions here, rendering everyone equally helpless, equally in need. But soon, old social structures reemerged. Village elders became camp leaders. Gangs of former soldiers and militiamen formed community policing groups. Local courts began trying local crimes like adultery or having a child out of wedlock. 

“These are not rabbits you’re putting in cages. These are people aching to get back to their normal life, trying to reclaim their individuality,” says Kilian Kleinschmidt, a former UN official who has managed refugee camps in Africa and the Middle East. 

SOURCE: UNHCR, as of Sept. 2017
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Jacob Turcotte/Staff

Ironically, life in the camps seems to have removed the biggest barrier to good government in South Sudan – war. While there are regional disputes here, the deeply held ethnic resentments cracking the country apart are mostly absent (in part because its residents, largely loyal to the opposition, are mostly of the same ethnic background). And no one’s salaries are being siphoned off by conflict, corruption, or economic collapse – because no one here makes a salary at all.

“We feel as people affected by war we have to at least be committed to peace here, in our camps,” says James Lam Gatluak, a judge.

On a recent morning, Mr. Gatluak and six other justices on the high court, the camp’s equivalent of a Supreme Court, sit at a plastic table in the corner of a tin building that serves as POC 3’s administrative headquarters. As they huddle over a skillfully forged American $100 bill, the face of a small child appears at the window, hushed and curious about the proceedings inside.

“I took this money from the bank,” says the defendant, a slight woman in a long yellow dress, waving a pink deposit slip from a bank in Juba. Her voice wavers with exasperation. “How can it be fake?”

The man accusing her of passing the counterfeit bill interrupts her testimony and slams his fist on the table. “She switched the bill and gave me that one,” he says. The judges, who each wear a red-and-white sash, quietly take notes.

Each month, the high court hears appeals from a network of 16 lower courts in the camp, about cases ranging from assault and theft to adultery. Most are settled at this table by the judges, who often mete out small fines, which the defendants pay to victims and camp administrators. Only four or five cases a month – murder, rape, or violent robbery – are referred to the UN. Judges weigh referrals carefully, since the accused could end up being sent to a prison in Juba, under the writ of the very government they fled.

Today, as the case of the fraudulent bill rambles on – there are hours of more witnesses and evidence to be heard – a flurry of angry voices rises from outside. Two residents march another man toward the local police station, a three-room tent. The suspect, who has been accused of beating up a man who eloped with his sister, rails against his captors, screaming obscenities.

Judges on the high court in Protection of Civilians Camp 3 hear evidence in a forgery case. The court, which is part of a network of 17 tribunals run by camp residents, hears a wide variety of legal cases.
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Ryan Lenora Brown/The Christian Science Monitor

In the next room over, Tek Chan explains how policing works in POC 3. “We follow human rights,” he says. “We have been taught by the UN about international law.” Just then, in the room where the prisoner is being held, a whip cracks on bare skin. A man wails, and then the room falls silent.

At times, however, “you need a local intervention,” says Mr. Chan, who heads a policing committee. The whip cracks again. He shrugs.

From above, camps like POC 3 look like a refugee Levittown: row after row of nearly identical tents laid out in a perfect grid. In theory, everything residents need here is free of charge, and everyone is treated the same. Food, education, medical care, a place to sleep – none of it costs a cent, and everyone is equally entitled to his or her share.

Camp life also comes with certain rules. No weapons. No alcohol. No leaving the compound after dark. Guards check residents coming from the outside for contraband – alcohol and drugs, of course, but also bricks and mortar. No permanent housing can be built here.

“The message has to go out that this is a temporary, interim solution,” says Charles Okwir, a relief, reintegration, and protection officer with the UN Mission in South Sudan. “It should not be seen as a permanent feature of life in South Sudan.”

But in recent years, its wealthiest residents have begun quietly replacing their UN-issued tents with circular huts made from mud bricks and twigs – taking advantage of a gray area in the “no permanent housing” rule – and filling them with furniture from local stores.

And despite the sameness of circumstances here, camp life is also entrepreneurial. People trade sacks of World Food Program corn for braids of dried fish that taste like meals back home, or they swap a load of firewood for a beaded bracelet. Ration cards are exchanged for hard currency, which pays for a better-located tent or a haircut, a pair of sneakers, a hunk of meat.

The natural impulse to turn temporary settlements into something more permanent is as old as civilization – and isn’t necessarily bad, according to Mr. Kleinschmidt. For thousands of years, he points out, humans have been running, searching – and resettling. Take Venice, the Italian city of canals and hordes of gondola-riding tourists. It began as a camp for civilians fleeing Germanic and Hun invaders after the fall of Rome.

“All our cities are refugee cities, in a way,” says Kleinschmidt. “So if you look at it that way, then why are we now making so much fuss about camps and depriving people from moving on with their lives?”

The answer to that question lies partly in the ruins of postwar Europe. In 1951, the newly minted UN laid down the first set of guidelines for how to treat people displaced by war. The UN’s refugee convention, which has since been adopted worldwide, sets out the rules on who is allowed to flee – people with a “well-founded fear of being persecuted” at home – and the obligation of receiving countries to provide “temporary protection” until a more durable solution is found.

That protection usually takes the form of a tented camp – cheap, flexible, and portable. The idea is that people will stay there until the conflict ends, or, if it doesn’t, they will either integrate into the new country or relocate to a third nation. In practice, long-term solutions have proved elusive. Many governments haven’t wanted to keep the refugees stranded in their country, and camps provide a simple, if inelegant, solution. So the life span of many of these ephemeral tent cities has ballooned, even as planning for them remains hostage to the idea that they will never be permanent.

An aerial view of another camp, this one near Bentiu, South Sudan, shows how the temporary tent cities are laid out in a perfect grid.
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Ryan Lenora Brown/The Christian Science Monitor

In recent decades, cracks in the postwar model have begun to show. One after another, refugee “situations” have begun to sprawl across decades: Afghans in Pakistan, Sahrawis in Algeria, Burmese in Thailand, Sudanese in Chad. The number of people displaced inside their own countries has been ticking up, too, putting an added burden on governments and aid organizations.

Dozens of Palestinian refugee camps are now more than a half-century old. In Zaatari, a sprawling settlement of 85,000 Syrians in the Jordanian desert, locals have become so entrenched that they have set up their own pizza delivery services, travel agencies, and a system for addresses that UN authorities have hustled to replicate.

Many of the quarter-million people shoehorned into Dadaab, a cluster of camps on the Kenyan border with Somalia, have lived there since the early 1990s. Residents have coined a term to describe this kind of dragged-out displacement – buufis, the feeling of being forever in-between. 

Buufis is “a kind of depression rooted in an inextinguishable hope for a life elsewhere,” said former Human Rights Watch researcher Ben Rawlence in his book on Dadaab, “City of Thorns.” People in these camps have finished school, gotten married, raised children, opened businesses. But for many, something important was missing – a sense that this was a place they could stay forever. Dadaab had, instead, become for hundreds of thousands of people a passageway sealed off at one end – a place leading to a future they could never see.

One way around this sense of limbo, some argue, is to locate refugee settlements in new areas and integrate them into local economies – rather than setting them up as, essentially, holding stations. The theory is that people want to live in cities anyway.

“People, not just migrants, but people generally, are urbanizing rapidly,” says Michael Castle Miller, executive director of Refugee Cities, a group of experts pushing for new forms of urban refugee settlement. “That makes sense because you find freedom in a city – freedom from poverty, from a lack of opportunity. There’s generally more prosperity in the city than the country.” 

For Mr. Castle Miller and his team, one solution is to persuade host governments to build “special status” settlements for refugees in urban areas. Under this model, businesses could be given tax breaks in exchange for employing migrants.

But others want to create settlements that are more permanent from the outset by, among other things, having urban planners instead of humanitarians lay out the compounds. “If urban planners could plan camps in more sustainable places, then they could become thriving cities,” says Justin Tata, head of the department of architecture and urban planning at the University of Juba. The needs of a city – such as infrastructure and sustainable sources of water, electricity, and food – are often quite different from the needs of a temporary camp. 

But building cities, even if they do end up being temporary, is a better solution because they tap into the countries they’re part of, whereas camps tend to leach off them – and off the international community. A more permanent refugee city, for instance, could charge residents to use electricity or piped water. A camp, on the other hand, might siphon electricity illegally from the grid, or draw water from trucks brought in at great cost by aid groups. 

Still, others worry that if refugee camps become too comfortable, it will undermine efforts to end the conflict that gave birth to them in the first place. 

In Algeria, about 165,000 Sahrawi refugees from Western Sahara, a disputed territory claimed by Morocco, have lived since 1975 in self-governing camps that have evolved over the years to look much like cities – albeit poor ones. Without obvious suffering or hunger there, many activists say it’s hard to persuade the international community to pressure Morocco into letting the refugees go home.

“Is there a long-term plan [for refugee camps] at the moment? No. Does there need to be planning? Yes,” says Mr. Ridley, head of the UN’s humanitarian coordination body in South Sudan. “The reason that long-term plan hasn’t existed is that we’ve hoped, of course, that people would be able to leave and go home.”

Bang Lul is one who would echo that sentiment – that people need to go home. For a dozen years, Mr. Lul lived with his wife and children in a refugee camp in Ethiopia, waiting for the end of Sudan’s civil war. When independence from Sudan was declared in 2011, they rejoiced.

Two years later, he headed back to Juba to start a new life. But before he could summon the rest of his family, fighting broke out, and he fled here. Now he’s waiting again. “If peace comes, we will leave tomorrow, but peace is not coming,” says Lul, a former chairman of POC 3. 

Outside his tent, women haggle over exchanging bags of grain for spears of purple-green okra. An orange motorized rickshaw with a massive speaker pulls to a stop nearby. It’s a mobile radio station that travels the camp airing news, public service announcements, and personal messages. There’s a blast of music and then a man’s voice comes on, low and serious.

“Hello, Mary. It’s your brother. I’m greeting you. I’m well here in Zone 6, POC 3. Reply here when you hear this message.”

Back in the camp’s main office, the high court judges are preparing their ruling in the fraud case. After a trip to the bank in Juba, they have determined that the woman must have replaced the genuine banknote with a fake bill and passed it off to the man. She must pay him back and reimburse the court for damages. As the ruling is read out, her eyes fill with tears.

With the sun setting, the judges gather their things to go home. A new shift of men arrives, meanwhile, to begin a nightly neighborhood patrol. Nearby, groups of women and children, new arrivals who have not yet been assigned ration cards or tents, lay out mats on the dirt outside.

The night settles in quietly, the end of another day in a place that isn’t supposed to exist.

Reporting for this story was supported by the International Women’s Media Foundation.

( 3259 words )
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4. In Afghanistan, arts revival helps restore architectural heritage

What sounds like a lovely effort to revive traditional culture in a place where art had been almost stomped out by war is about more than making jewelry. As a former ambassador says: 'It is about preserving the soul of the country.'

Yvonne
Nathan Stroupe, Afghanistan country director for Turquoise Mountain, stands in the courtyard on Sept. 24 of one of the 112 buildings the British charity has restored so far to create an institute for Afghan artisans to revitalize their heritage, in Kabul's historical Murad Khani district. More than 500 artisans have graduated from Turquoise Mountain specializing in traditional crafts such as woodworking, jewelry-making and gem cutting, ceramics, and elaborate calligraphy.
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Scott Peterson/The Christian Science Monitor/Getty Images
 

The 30 Sec. ReadWhen Turquoise Mountain took on the restoration of Murad Khani, one of Kabul’s poorest historical neighborhoods, its aim was to do more than clear away wartime debris. From the beginning, the British charity also sought to revive the disappearing arts of Afghan culture, among them jewelry-making, woodworking, and gem cutting. Rays of hope are rare in Afghanistan, but in the process of revitalizing Murad Khani, Turquoise Mountain has created a model now being applied in Myanmar (Burma) and Saudi Arabia, and soon in Jordan, with Syrian refugee artisans. A project that started by hiring 1,000 workers to remove deep layers of trash has so far renovated 112 buildings and created an art institute, primary school, and a clinic that sees 2,000 patients a month. The institute has produced 500 graduates, and their work has been exhibited at the Smithsonian. That helps change perceptions. “People’s view of Afghanistan goes through quite a fundamental change because they, understandably, think of it as a battlefield … and not much more,” says Richard Stagg, a former British ambassador now on the charity’s board. “Suddenly they see there are people of talent and passion who are producing beautiful things.” 

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4. In Afghanistan, arts revival helps restore architectural heritage

In her heart, Ramzia Sarwary-Khorami always wanted to make jewelry. But the path to success in Afghanistan is narrow, especially for a woman, no matter how intrepid or ambitious.

Then on the radio a decade ago, she heard about a new urban reclamation project in Murad Khani, one of Kabul’s poorest historic neighborhoods, backed by a charity called Turquoise Mountain.

The project also aimed to resurrect the disappearing arts of Afghan culture. Jewelry and gem cutting were on the list.

Ms. Sarwary-Khorami signed up with Turquoise Mountain and learned soldering, sandpapering metals and stones, and the secrets of the six cultures of Afghan jewelry making.

“I found my dreams,” says Sarwary-Khorami, who now works as a teacher and quality controller for the charity and sells her own creations through high-end jewelry designers in London – a pathway established by Turquoise Mountain for its graduate artisans.

“Every year we have more students, I tell them: ‘Come to Turquoise Mountain, we can support you,’ ” she says.

Rays of hope are rare in Afghanistan, where 16 years of Taliban insurgency and deteriorating security in the capital – defined by Taliban and Islamic State attacks and mass-casualty truck bombs – have caused waves of migration and a brain drain.

But Turquoise Mountain is not a typical charity, and its aim of training Afghan artists while restoring the nation’s cultural and architectural heritage has expanded far beyond initial expectations. In the process of revitalizing Murad Khani, which dates back to the 18th century, the organization has created a model now being applied in Myanmar, Saudi Arabia, and soon in Jordan with Syrian refugee artisans.

At the same time, high-profile interactive exhibitions the charity has curated, such as “Artists Transforming Afghanistan” at the Smithsonian’s Freer and Sackler Galleries in Washington – which ends this month after a popular 1-1/2-year run – and at Qatar’s Museum of Islamic Art, have helped change perceptions about Afghanistan. Rather than exclusively a war zone, it’s a place with its own worthy and productive culture.

Jewelry makers work in a space created by the British charity Turquoise Mountain, which has restored 112 buildings so far in Kabul, Afghanistan, to create an institute for Afghan artisans to revitalize their heritage.
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Courtesy of Lama El Desouky/Turquoise Mountain

“It’s a different sort of thing, and you wouldn’t want every charity to abandon health care and education and all focus on traditional crafts and culture,” says Richard Stagg, a former British ambassador to Afghanistan now on the Turquoise Mountain board.

“But I think it does have a place, and a more important and central one than it initially appears, because it is about preserving the soul of the country, which has been very nearly destroyed by this ghastly period of decades of conflict and destruction,” says Ambassador Stagg.

Reclamation project

At the start of the reclamation project, Murad Khani was “basically a waste dump” with a failing economy, a dour refuge for Afghans displaced by the war to Kabul, says Nathan Stroupe, country director for Turquoise Mountain. Indeed, the historic neighborhood was due to be demolished in 2008, and was added to the World Monuments Fund’s Watch List.

“The whole bazaar area was a shambles,” says Mr. Stroupe. “Now hundreds of thousands of people a year visit the bazaar and shrine.”

What started in Kabul in 2006 by hiring 1,000 workers to remove 36,000 cubic meters of accumulated layers of trash from atop the dilapidated Murad Khani district – a frontline in Kabul heavily pummeled during the intra-mujahideen civil war in the mid-1990s – has so far renovated 112 buildings to create an art institute, primary school, and a clinic that sees 2,000 patients a month.

Before-and-after photos tell the story, with refuse initially piled two or three yards high blocking the ground-floor entrances of decrepit buildings, some with traditional jali latticed wood screens, on the verge of disintegration.

Today those same buildings, rescued from the ravages of war and time, are in active daily use. In the classrooms, 130 students are handed down the secrets of ancient Afghan crafts: wood-working with walnut and cedar; ceramics with deep turquoise glaze; jewelry making and gem-stone cutting, and miniature painting and elaborate calligraphy.

The insecurity from insurgent Taliban and Islamic State attacks has not affected Turquoise Mountain’s work, though some bombings have turned out to be close.

“The fundamental issue is we are celebrating what is amazing about Afghanistan, and it is not particularly controversial for most people,” says Stroupe. “We are saying, ‘This is what’s incredible, we want to preserve it so future generations can have it.’ ”

Jewelry created by Afghan artisans is displayed at Turquoise Mountain in Kabul, Afghanistan.
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Courtesy of Lama El Desouky/Turquoise Mountain

Still, such work is not without risk. One of artist Sarwary-Khorami’s relatives, who was not connected to Turquoise Mountain, was fingered by Taliban spies for selling his own jewelry creations to Western clients, including Americans. In 2015, he was kidnapped by the Taliban for four days, and came home bruised from severe beatings.

They told him: “Don’t work with Americans!” These days he resides abroad.

Such setbacks may be typical in Afghanistan. But the Turquoise Mountain institute has produced 500 graduates so far, some 80 percent of whom have continued in their field or gone on to advanced study. The aim is self-sustainability for the artists and their crafts, by developing expertise and high-quality standards for export.

The institute also offers “tool kit training” and support for three years after graduation for artists to create international markets. Artists learn how to get licensed and brand and price their work.

Changing views of Afghanistan

The brainchild of British writer, adventurer, and politician Rory Stewart, Turquoise Mountain began with high-profile celebrity status, as a joint project of Britain’s Prince Charles and former Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

But on the ground it keeps a low profile for foreign staff, who work with substantial funding from the British Council, the US Agency for International Development, and Persian Gulf donors, among others.

The starting point was the “strong likelihood that the Old City would quickly be turned into a series of supermarkets and multi-story car parks by ‘businessmen’ – quote, unquote – unless something was done,” says former diplomat Stagg. In the 1980s, during the Soviet occupation, the area had been set aside for residential apartments that were never built.

Besides helping to restore pride among Afghans in their own culture and art, the work has changed views of Afghanistan abroad. The Smithsonian exhibit has received 350,000 visitors, for example, and an assessment of before-and-after views points to an evolution in thinking.

“People’s view of Afghanistan goes through quite a fundamental change because they, understandably, think of it as a battlefield pitted with the dead and the wounded, and not much more,” says Stagg, about the exhibition results. “Suddenly they see there are people of talent and passion who are producing beautiful things.”

The experience is now being applied by Turquoise Mountain in Myanmar, where it is restoring its second historic building. It is also being used in Saudi Arabia, and first steps are now being explored among Syrian refugee artisans in Jordan refugee camps, to keep alive their expertise until the seven-year war abates and they can return home.

'Intangible heritage'

Yet Afghanistan remains the most ambitious program, where Turquoise Mountain is helping the government make a national inventory of “intangible heritage,” in keeping with its obligations under UNESCO’s Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, signed in 2003.

“Tangible heritage” refers to buildings and items that sometimes can be replaced, even if destroyed, based on photographs and new technologies.

“But when intangible heritage disappears, it is because the few people who were the stewards of this knowledge passed away. And it happens all the time, with languages, with crafts,” says Bastien Varoutsikos, the cultural heritage adviser for Turquoise Mountain.

“Why is this important? The answer to me, as we go to a more globalized world, is it is important to keep track of how diverse the human experience is,” says Mr. Varoutsikos.

Turquoise Mountain’s work preserving intangible heritage is funded by a specific £2.5 million British grant ($3.3 million) from the Cultural Protection Fund, and the charity is documenting 15 crafts and ensuring that knowledge of them is passed on to 200 artisans, academics, and other specialists.

The result will be presented to Afghans through exhibitions and outreach programs.

“No private organization should be stewards of the Afghan inventory list; this should be the goal of the government, so we have some capacity building to do,” says Varoutsikos, describing a 10-year plan.

“It’s a marathon, and we are really at the beginning of it.”

( 1408 words )
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5. Letter from Liberia: protecting a hard-won peace

There's the story, and then there's the story behind the story. When it came to Liberia's elections, the women of the country put their thumb on the scale for peace. And, they say, they are keeping it there.

Yvonne
 

The 30 Sec. ReadIt was two days before Liberia’s Oct. 10 presidential election. Voters were about to pick from a raucous field of 20 candidates – from the current president’s deputy, to a former soccer star, to a former warlord who infamously oversaw the torture and execution of a former president. Monitor reporter Ryan Brown had spent the morning following a group of women’s activists on a march through the capital, Monrovia, when something caught her eye: rows of riot police falling into formation, locking their plastic shields together as a wave of protesters surged toward them – or so it seemed. “What’s going on?” she asked, after sprinting several blocks to the site, anticipating violence. But the answer wasn’t what she expected. While Liberian voters are divided on who the next president should be (provisional results are expected Thursday), they weren’t divided on how the election should be carried out, Ryan writes: peacefully. And from police to fasting grandmothers, many of them put in the work to try and make that a reality. 

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5. Letter from Liberia: protecting a hard-won peace

I saw the water cannon first, swiveling skyward as it searched ominously for its target. All around it, rows of riot police were falling into formation, locking their plastic shields together as a wave of protesters surged toward them, chanting and hurling stones. 

It was two days before Liberia’s Oct. 10 presidential election, and I’d spent the morning following a group of women’s activists on a protest march through Monrovia. But when I saw the scuffle with the police beginning a few blocks away I immediately shut my notebook mid-interview and sprinted toward it.

“What’s going on?” I whispered to the first person I saw as I approached the riot. He surveyed me a bit pityingly, and suddenly I saw myself from a distance – the breathless foreign journalist eager to observe a bit of headline-grabbing election violence. 

“Our police are practicing,” he said, and turned back to watch the show.

And indeed, when I looked again, that much was clear. The “rioters” had dispersed for a water break. A knot of police in full body armor were laughing at a joke I couldn’t hear.

This was not a riot at all, but a dress rehearsal for an event most Liberians are adamant they won’t let happen – a violent election.

On Tuesday, Liberians chose from a raucous field of 20 presidential candidates. With provisional results expected Thursday, the results are still hard to predict. In the lead-up to the vote, however, several seemed to have a fighting chance at making it to a second round in November, which would be triggered if no candidate received more than 50 percent of the vote.

But if Liberians are split on who their next president should be, they have been not at all divided on how the election should be carried out.

“When you know war, you don’t let peace go easily,” Augustine Bolo, a newspaper salesman in a Monrovia neighborhood called – appropriately – Peace Island, told me as he waited in line to vote.

Hard-won peace

It was a sentiment I saw echoed again and again: on election posters imploring voters “Vote, not fight – Election is not a war;” and in an election-eve speech from the country’s sitting president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who asked her citizens to “go to the polls peacefully” and to “embrace your neighbor, regardless of their political choice.”

For three weeks before the election, a group of women dressed in white shirts that read “PEACE YES!! NEVER AGAIN” and “SUSTAIN THE PEACE” prayed and fasted from dawn to dusk every day under a marquee near the president’s house. They were there under the sharp equatorial sun and through storms where rain seemed to fall in thick, unbroken sheets.

People wait to vote during the presidential election at a polling station in Monrovia, Liberia, on Oct. 10.
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Thierry Gouegnon/Reuters

The women, among them activists, faith leaders, and wizened grannies, enjoy an outsized moral authority in Liberia. Many come from the same group of female peace activists credited, in part, with ending Liberia’s brutal civil war in 2003.

Back then, as the death toll from Liberia’s civil war sped toward a quarter million, leaders of the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace met with the country’s then-president, Charles Taylor, and cajoled him to attend peace talks with rebel leaders in Accra, Ghana’s capital. Then they surrounded hotels where rebel leaders were staying for a meeting in Freetown, Sierra Leone and convinced them to come too. 

And when the men went, they followed.

For eight weeks, the women gathered daily outside the building where negotiations were going on, singing and praying. But as the talks dragged on and violence in Liberia continued, they took a more radical tact. Two hundred women surrounded the building, locking arms. When police tried to disperse them, they threatened to take off their clothes – an act intended to shame the men.

It worked. The demonstrators had put a thumb on the scales. Three weeks later, Taylor resigned. 

A few days ago, the leader of that demonstration, 2011 Nobel Peace Prize winner Leymah Gbowee, told me women have not let off the pressure since. She is in regular text-message contact with the leading presidential contenders, she says, reminding them of the responsibility they have to maintain the peace the country’s women fought so hard to achieve a decade and a half ago.

Watching the vote

“We’re not afraid to go in and wage peace,” says Ruth Caesar, a development economist and activist who was among the women gathered in Accra in 2003. On election day, I met her outside a polling station in the Rehab area of Monrovia, where she’d just completed a check of procedures as an election observer. “Nothing much to see,” she said, laughing: just a few people trying to cut the lines.

This election also marks another historic moment in Liberia’s peace-building process. This year, for the first time since the war ended, the election is being carried out entirely by Liberian institutions, without the aid of the United Nations and its peacekeeping forces.

At Peace Island Elementary School, I met a young policewoman named Patience Brown who’d been assigned to watch over the voting there.

Growing up in Monrovia just after the civil war, she explained, she’d seen UN blue helmets patrolling the streets. People trusted them because they were outsiders – local police had earned a reputation during the war as a kind of private security force for the government, mistreating civilians with impunity.

“I was so afraid of the police as a kid because of the stories I heard about how they were,” she says. But as she grew up, she says, she wanted to do something to help keep her country from backsliding again into war. So a year ago, she joined the police force.

“I feel proud of this job,” she says, watching the queue of voters inch forward. “Once people were so afraid of us, but now we are taking charge and proving ourselves.”

( 973 words )
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The Monitor's View

Latin America’s anti-graft quake

 

The 30 Sec. ReadOne part of the post-quake response in Mexico – a spotlight on alleged fraud and negligence in construction and its oversight – is yet another sign of a new recognition in Latin America that corruption need not remain an unchallenged norm. In recent years, several countries such as Brazil, Guatemala, and Honduras have had success in ousting corrupt officials. Experts point to the fact that the region’s middle class now exceeds the number of poor. More people are paying taxes and demanding accountability. People are also better connected and quicker to organize. Yet behind such social changes lies a deeper shift in attitudes about honesty and justice in public affairs. That shift is captured in a new survey of more than 22,000 people in 20 Latin American countries by the watchdog group Transparency International. The poll reveals that 70 percent in the region believe ordinary people can make a difference in fighting corruption. Change begins with a realization of the need for openness and equality before the law.

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Latin America’s anti-graft quake

When an earthquake rattled central Mexico in September and dozens of buildings collapsed, Mexicans rallied by the thousands to rescue trapped survivors. Now many Mexicans realize corruption in the enforcement of building codes may have added to the size of the death toll (at least 369). As a result, a physical tremor has led to a political tremor.

Mexico City prosecutors, for example, have opened more than 150 investigations into alleged fraud and negligence related to the quake. And a petition campaign that collected more than a million signatures resulted in money designated for political campaigns being diverted to earthquake relief. In addition, the continuing public outcry is expected to shake up the 2019 presidential election.

The post-quake response in Mexico is yet another sign of a new recognition in Latin America that corruption need not remain an unchallenged norm. In recent years, several countries such as Brazil, Guatemala, and Honduras have seen once-unimagined success in ousting corrupt officials. Experts point to the fact that the region’s middle class now exceeds the number of poor, which means more people are paying taxes and demanding accountability. People are also better connected by social media. Anti-corruption movements can be quickly organized.

Yet behind such social changes lies a deeper shift in attitudes about honesty and justice in public affairs. That shift is captured in a new survey of more than 22,000 people in 20 Latin American countries by the watchdog group Transparency International. The poll reveals that 70 percent in the region believe ordinary people can make a difference in fighting corruption, defined as the abuse of public office for private gain.

“We found that a large cohort of people stands ready and willing to get involved in the fight against public sector graft,” states the survey’s report. One big reason: More than 90 million people in Latin America had to pay a bribe in the 12 months prior to the survey. That is equivalent to nearly 1 in 3 of the people who rely on basic public services.

This rising pressure against corruption has “opened a rare window of opportunity” for national leaders to make reforms, state three economists at the International Monetary Fund. 

“Latin America’s fight against corruption is increasingly becoming a priority,” they wrote in a September blog on the IMF website. “At the end of the day, breaking corruption requires standing up against powerful vested interests – both private and government – who benefit from the status quo.”

The earthquake in Mexico came 32 years to the day after another major quake also destroyed lives and buildings. That 1985 quake led to the fall of one-party rule in Mexico and the expansion of democracy. Perhaps with this latest disaster Mexicans will finally curb their corrupt politics. Such a shake-up starts with a realization of the need for openness and equality before the law in public life.

( 471 words )
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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.

Prayers for firefighters on the front line

 

As I think about wildfires, it’s almost automatic for me to want to envelop all the firefighters in prayer. I like to think that each of them is under the Almighty’s care, as the 91st Psalm makes so plain: “He [God] is my refuge and fortress … He shall deliver thee … He shall cover thee … His truth shall be thy shield and buckler” (verses 2-4). The Bible is brimming with inspiration that was key to enhancing safety for those most on the front line of whatever threat loomed at the time. It was inspiration that did not erase or replace intelligent strategy, but that acted like a kind of spiritual underpinning to it. And it offers the same spiritual authority and protection in the face of whatever threatens us today. God, the one divine Mind, is a present and powerful source of inspiration for all. When we’re willing to listen, ideas come that direct us to wise, even inspired strategies for meeting needs large and small.

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Prayers for firefighters on the front line

One morning I climbed up a knoll on the eastern edge of our property, one of three sides that adjoin a national forest. Up there the view expands for miles. Scanning the horizon, I looked for any wisp of smoke. I braced myself against the Santa Ana winds that were already stiff on what everyone expected to be another fierce day of firefighting in California.

The winds were quiet overnight, but by 4 a.m. they’d kicked up again, gusting hard across our bone-dry valley. Although I didn’t see any sign of fire on the horizon, I knew I’d return later to check. Hiking back down to our mountain house, I was grateful for another moment without fire.

When we’d moved there, one of our first actions had been to create some defensible space around the house by clearing off the brush that hugged it too closely. It’s what every fire station in these parts pleads with homeowners to do.

At one time, I would have been thinking mainly about the safety of the house as I cleared the brush. But my concern shifted to focus on the safety of the firefighters who might one day be defending the house. I have a son who is trained as a firefighter. That day, he was somewhere in southern California with a fire crew. So it’s easy to feel that every firefighter, every man or woman on the front line, is, in some sense, kin.

As I think about wildfires, it’s almost automatic for me to want to envelop all the firefighters in prayer. I like to think that each of them is under the Almighty’s care, as the 91st Psalm makes so plain: “He [God] is my refuge and fortress … He shall deliver thee … He shall cover thee … His truth shall be thy shield and buckler” (verses 2-4). As the spiritual, infinitely loved children of God, no one can ever be without the care or intelligence that’s needed.

In the Bible, both the Old and New Testaments are brimming with inspiration that was key to enhancing safety for those most on the front line of whatever threat loomed at the time. It was inspiration that did not erase or replace intelligent strategy, but that acted like a kind of spiritual underpinning to that intelligent strategy. And it offers the same spiritual authority and protection in the face of whatever threatens us today.

For instance, I like to remember the Apostle Paul. He was not in the midst of a howling fire, but in a storm at sea (see Acts 27). Although a prisoner at the time, nothing could stop him from praying, from drawing on divine inspiration. He’d been inspired to advise against the journey. When the authorities ignored that advice, he continued his prayer. But when the ship was overcome in a severe storm, he was able to provide spiritual encouragement and support that led to wise steps being taken. This action gave them all – prisoners, sailors, and soldiers – time to escape to land. Although the ship was lost, everyone aboard survived.

God, the one divine Mind, is a present and powerful source of inspiration for all. When we’re willing to listen, ideas come that direct us to wise, even inspired strategies for combating fires and other threats.

Adapted from an article published in the Christian Science Sentinel, Oct. 24, 2007.

( 557 words )
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Viewfinder

Puppy diplomacy

Turkmenistan's president, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov (l.), speaks with his Russian counterpart, President Vladimir Putin, after presenting him with a Turkmen shepherd dog, locally known as Alabai, as Russian presidential aide Yuri Ushakov (r.) and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov look on during a meeting in Sochi, Russia. The dog was called a late birthday gift to Mr. Putin.
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Maxim Shemetov/Reuters
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte. )
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In Our Next Issue

( October 12th, 2017 )

Yvonne Zipp
Deputy Daily Editor

Thanks so much for joining us. Come back tomorrow. We're working on a piece about fighting wildfires.

Finally, after the Las Vegas shooting, we asked readers whether they thought meaningful gun control was impossible. Click here to see what Monitor readers said.

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