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Rethink the News

Perspective matters.

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

2018
February
14
Wednesday

How do you watch the Pyeongchang Olympics?

There are the things we notice: Competitors defying gravity and pressure with grit and grace. The chance to imagine life literally in the fast lane. Awe that transcends national ties.

Other things slip past us. Security measures that include “drone-catching drones.” The lack of global fretting about readiness before the opening ceremonies – a quiet gauge of South Korea's image as technological titan.

And then there are the visiting American veterans of the Korean War. Some speak of their admiration for the South’s achievement since that devastating conflict. “It shows you how hardworking … the Korean people are,” one told CNBC. He values his contact with Koreans in the US as well through the Korean War Veterans Association. "We have a real love for them and they seem to love us."

That spirit also stands out to veteran Ronald Busser, watching from his home in York, Pa. He has Korean friends here, he told me, including a Korean pastor who reached out years ago. “He keeps us on track of what’s going on over there,” he says, noting his own astonishment at South Korea’s growth. “They’re pretty grateful people.”

For veterans of what’s often called “the forgotten war,” it’s their own podium moment.

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Here are our five stories today, showing the power of individual initiative and family support at work. 

1. Questions mount over temporary White House clearances

Revelations about repeated renewals of temporary security clearances at the White House have underscored how little public information is available about the clearances. A congressional investigation may change that. 

Amelia
 

The 30 Sec. ReadIf you’ve worked in Washington for any length of time, you’ve got a security clearance story. A friend or acquaintance was up for a government job that handled secrets, so the FBI came to call. Was this friend honest? Did they cheat on their spouse? Drink too much? Maybe you let slip you’d lent them money for a condo payment. Uh-oh. A red flag – and the clearance got delayed for months. Maybe that’s why the White House remains mired in a security clearance morass. The FBI – not known for giving people a pass – told administration officials as early as last summer that ex-staff secretary Rob Porter had problems in his background. Yet he kept working with a temporary security clearance. Folks on the Hill and K Street know that’s not really how it’s supposed to work. That’s part of the reason lawmakers want more explanations for the 30 or so White House officials with temporary clearances – including President Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner. “It shouldn’t be routine that a temporary clearance is extended and extended and extended,” said Rep. Adam Schiff of California, top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, at a Monitor breakfast Feb. 14.

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1. Questions mount over temporary White House clearances

President Trump’s White House isn’t famous for sweating the small stuff. Maybe that’s one reason it is stumbling over something known for exacting detail: the security clearance process.

More than a week after allegations of spousal abuse against former staff secretary Rob Porter burst into public view, the administration is still struggling to explain who knew about problems revealed by Mr. Porter’s background check, when they knew them, and what they did or didn’t do in response.

Testimony from FBI Director Christopher Wray on Tuesday indicated that White House officials learned about warning signs in Porter’s background as long ago as last summer. Were these signs disbelieved? Did officials ignore them? Do other top White House aides, such as Mr. Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, maintain access to secrets despite problems with their own security applications?

Lawmakers from both parties are beginning to wonder if the White House’s reliance on temporary clearances for 30 to 40 officials is due to the slow pace of the clearance process, or evidence of a cover up of past events in the lives of colleagues.

“There may be good reasons to give temporary clearances when someone is new to the administration, or a particular matter needs to be resolved ... but those should be extraordinary cases. It shouldn’t be routine that a temporary clearance is extended and extended and extended,” said Rep. Adam Schiff (D) of California, ranking minority member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast on Feb. 14.

It’s possible the heavy use of temporary passes reflects the White House working culture.

Mr. Trump is a manager who appears to thrive on chaos and draw strength from clashing arguments between his subordinates. Meanwhile, many key jobs remain unfilled. The White House moves fast when it can, hits back hard at critics, and isn’t exactly an exemplar of orderly bureaucracy.

GE under Jack Welch, this isn’t. The problem is that classified information is one area where the travel-light fight-tough ethos may not work. It’s espionage 101: Look for officials who handle secrets but may have secrets of their own they don’t want revealed. They’re possible blackmail targets.

“There’s a lack of professionalism here,” says Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists. “It’s sloppy and it may be dangerous ... you don’t want [classified information] in the hands of people vulnerable to embarrassment.”

Questions about White House chronology

The central question of the Porter case involves allegations from two ex-wives that he physically and verbally abused them, and a direct warning to the White House from a recent ex-girlfriend that he was manipulative and not to be trusted. His first wife has released a photo of herself with a black eye, saying it was caused by him hitting her.

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly has reportedly told staff to say that he moved to fire Porter within 40 minutes of becoming fully aware of the nature of the charges against him. But some White House staffers question that timeline, saying Mr. Kelly and other top aides knew of the details about Porter prior to its becoming public.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, FBI Director Christopher Wray testified that his agency filed an initial report to the White House on its Porter background check in March 2017. It finished and submitted the check in July, filed an updated submission in November, and closed its files on Porter this January.

At least one House panel has already opened a legislative investigation of this incident. On Wednesday Rep. Trey Gowdy (R) of South Carolina, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said he would look into why Porter remained at work in the White House after officials learned of the allegations.

“I have real questions about how someone like this could be considered for employment,” said Representative Gowdy in a CNN appearance.

“The chronology is not favorable for the White House,” Gowdy added.

On the other hand, the clearance process is itself not the fastest of machinery. Sheer volume is the cause of that. There were about 4.25 million government employees and contractors eligible for clearances in 2015, the last fiscal year for which full numbers are available, according to a Director of National Intelligence report. That’s a 5 percent drop from 2014, but with 5-year renewals added, keeping these approvals up to date is a heavy workload for the FBI and other agencies involved.

“The system has become too big to manage effectively,” says Steven Aftergood of FAS.

Presidential prerogative

And the clearance and classification system is not rooted in legislation. It is the product of presidential executive branch authority. As such, presidents can theoretically shape it as they wish.

As commander-in-chief, the president gets to decide the rules for access to classified information. That means that President Trump can award clearances to anyone in the White House who fails the standard investigatory process.

“The president can order or grant clearances to whoever he sees fit ... but if the clearance system is used in ways that are obviously self-serving or damaging to security, then there is a political price to pay,” Mr. Aftergood says.

On Wednesday Trump made a brief statement to reporters at the White House, saying, “I’m totally opposed to domestic violence of any kind. Everyone knows that.”

“And it almost wouldn’t even have to be said. So, now you hear it, but you all know,” said the president.

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Special Report

2. In two US cities, murder rates headed in opposite ways

Reporter Harry Bruinius was intrigued: Even as New York, where he is based, saw a record low murder rate, Baltimore saw a record high. What was going on? In the first of two stories, he talks to residents of one of the country's most violent neighborhoods. Their focus: to work with police, and to demand more of individuals and families to effect change.

Amelia
Baltimore experienced its highest murder rate in history in 2017. Since its peak in 1991, the country’s overall violent crime rate has fallen by more than half, leading to what criminologists call 'the great crime decline,' but several US cities have seen troubling spikes in murder.
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Ann Hermes/Staff
 

The 30 Sec. ReadSince getting out of prison about a year ago, Nathaniel Powell has had a burning sense of purpose: Teach kids on the streets of Baltimore that their actions have consequences. At a Pentecostal church, addressing a group of mothers who had experienced the murder of a son or daughter, Mr. Powell talked about shooting a police officer as a teenager. Last year, Baltimore experienced a record high in its murder rate – in stark contrast with New York, which saw a record low. The spike occurred against the backdrop of the deaths of unarmed black men during encounters with police. Across the US, deep-seated racial anxieties and the long-standing tensions between police departments and black communities have been laid bare. Here at St. John’s Pentecostal, there’s a current of what could be called a common-sense conservatism among those discussing the reasons their neighborhoods have become so violent. “We have to make sure that our kids [are] getting raised and taught right, because the first formal organization outside yourself is your family, your family structure,” says Powell, “and then it’s the community, because the community is a collection of families.”

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2. In two US cities, murder rates headed in opposite ways

Two American cities, separated by just 200 miles along the Northeast corridor, tell two very different stories about the crime of murder.

Just look at last year’s numbers, their raw inverted symmetry, each historic and jaw-dropping:

Baltimore, population 615,000, had 343 murders last year. That’s a murder rate of 55.8 per 100,000 people, the highest the city has ever seen.

New York, population 8.5 million, had 290 murders last year. That’s a murder rate of 3.3 per 100,000 people, and the lowest the city has seen since it began keeping modern records, going back at least 70 years.

The cities' inverted symmetry is visible in other ways as well. More than three years after its officers subdued Eric Garner in a chokehold, causing his death, the New York City Police Department has reported fewer stops, fewer arrests, and fewer complaints. Presiding over three straight years of record lows in overall crime, the NYPD now points with pride to New York's status as one of the safest big cities in the world.

Almost three years after its officers subdued Freddie Gray and took him on a “rough ride,” causing his death, the Baltimore Police Department has also reported fewer stops and fewer arrests. Presiding over two all-time high murder rates in three years, the BPD is in turmoil. Two officers in the elite gun task force were found guilty this week of racketeering and robbery, forcing prosecutors to drop or re-open more than 125 cases. The mayor fired the police commissioner. And some community leaders are complaining their police force is not doing enough to protect their neighborhoods.

With numbers so stark, the stories these two American cities tell invite an obvious question: Why? What has New York been doing right? Why is Baltimore in such a state?

Flash back to 2011, and the stories were different. There were 196 murders in Baltimore, the first time the city had fallen below 200 homicides in more than 30 years. Officials and community leaders marveled at the dropping numbers.

It seemed their efforts were finally paying dividends. Forget the puns about Bodymore, Murderland. Maybe the city’s troubled western neighborhoods could finally find gleams of cautious optimism, or even hope to see the dawn of a civic and economic revitalization, just like that of Baltimore’s famous inner harbor, scene of “The Star Spangled Banner.”

In New York that year, there were 515 murders. The city’s 20-year run of plummeting murder rates seemed to flatline. The city was tense. Police officers were stopping and frisking nearly 700,000 people that year – more than the entire population of Baltimore.

City officials and community leaders were waging bitter battles over those ever-increasing numbers, and 2011 would mark the crescendo in the NYPD’s decade-long surge in the aggressive street tactic

It seemed these efforts were driving deeper divisions. Forget the mean streets of New York. For dozens of civic groups, the most pressing need was to stand against the tactics of the nation’s largest police force, and many within black and Latino neighborhoods were bristling under what they called a virtual police state. Many saw the city’s famous statue in its inner harbor not as a beacon of liberty, but irony.

Which abounds, actually, in the country’s stories about the crime of murder. By 2014, the year of Eric Garner’s death, the United States was experiencing its lowest murder rate in 51 years: 4.5 per 100,000.

The nation is still in the midst of what criminologists call “the great crime decline,” in fact. Since its peak in 1991, the country’s overall violent crime rate has fallen by more than half.

Mayor Catherine Pugh listens as new Baltimore police commissioner Darryl DeSousa makes remarks at City Hall Jan. 19 in Baltimore. Following a record year in homicides, Pugh fired Kevin Davis, the former police commissioner, saying a change in leadership was needed to reduce crime more quickly.
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Kim Hairston/The Baltimore Sun/AP

By the numbers, the United States hasn’t been this safe overall, as Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) said of New York earlier this year, since “the Dodgers played in Brooklyn and a slice was 15 cents.”

But it doesn’t feel that way to most Americans.

Besides Baltimore, other American cities, such as Chicago, Detroit, and St. Louis, have also experienced troubling spikes in murders.

These were the primary drivers behind a double-digit jump in the nation’s murder rate in 2015, the largest in a quarter century. Based on preliminary numbers, experts predict the US murder rate to drop some 5.6 percent in 2017.

In many of these cities, too, these spikes occurred in the midst of the deaths of unarmed black men during encounters with police. The emergence of Black Lives Matter and the controversy over NFL players kneeling during the national anthem have laid bare the nation’s deep-seated racial anxieties, and the long-standing tensions between police departments and black communities.

Which is one reason why the historic stories of murder in New York and Baltimore feel so urgent now.

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Mothers of Murdered Sons and Daughters United hold a meeting on Jan. 19, in the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood in west Baltimore. With 343 homicides last year, Baltimore hit the record for killings per capita.
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Ann Hermes/Staff

Since getting out of prison about a year ago, Nathaniel Powell has had a burning sense of purpose: Teach these kids on the streets of Baltimore their actions have consequences, he says.

He was telling his story on a Sunday afternoon in January, standing in front of a group of mothers who had experienced the murder of a son or daughter. They were holding their monthly meeting, sharing their own experiences of loss at St. John’s Alpha and Omega Pentecostal Church in west Baltimore, one of the most violent neighborhoods in the country. A few blocks away, the first sparks kindling the riots of 2015 erupted, part of a wave of unrest in the city after the homicide of Freddie Gray.

“I’m sitting here, fighting back tears listening to y’all,” says Mr. Powell. “It’s humbling, because I was one of these little kids.... I was one of those narcissistic little kids carrying a semiautomatic weapon. That’s the environment I grew up in in west Baltimore.”

In 1996, when he was 17 and the United States was just starting to recover from one of the most serious crime waves on record, Powell shot a Baltimore police officer. He served nearly 21 years in prison for attempted murder.

Now, he tells the mothers, he's making a documentary film, “The Code of The Street,” highlighting the devastating effects of making decisions rooted in violence. His film, and his visits to schools and civic groups to tell his story, is aimed at the young black men most at risk. He came this afternoon to ask mothers to tell their stories on camera, so kids could see the deep anguish their actions could cause.

There were activists meeting with the mothers, too. Community organizers from groups such as Moms Demand Action, Marylanders Against Gun Violence, and the National Survivor Network were updating the mothers on various legislative efforts to address the social conditions behind the jaw-dropping spike in murders.

But here at St. John’s Pentecostal, there’s a strong current of what could be called a common-sense conservatism.

That mirrors a general social and religious conservatism common to many black Protestants, as well as to the congregations that often form the backbone of black political life, especially that of older generations. Despite being the Democratic Party’s most loyal and reliable base, scholars say, black Americans are ideologically quite diverse.

Many within the group, Mothers of Murdered Sons and Daughters United, describe themselves as supporters of the police department. Their group has co-sponsored police initiatives, and remains a part of “We Speak Up,” a collaborative project with Metro-Crime Stoppers and other faith groups to combat the anti-snitching culture in Baltimore, a non-cooperation with police that allows murderers to stay on the streets.

Daphne Alston, founder of Mothers of Murdered Sons and Daughters United, a service oriented, family-driven, and community organization, at a meeting Jan. 19 in West Baltimore.
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Ann Hermes/Staff

“We need the front-line police officers and we need the heart of the black community to step to the forefront of this discussion,” said the Rev. Kinji Scott, a local pastor who’s held positions in city government. “And that's when we're going to see a decrease in crime.” Those who called for police to back off after the death of Freddie Gray, Mr. Scott told NPR, were “our progressives, our activists, our liberal journalists, our politicians, but it did not represent the overall community.”

Powell, who now lives with his wife and two children, says he pondered this question for years while in prison. He believes that individuals and families must change first, before their wider neighborhoods can change.

“It took something to revolutionize my perspective on life for me to change as a person, as an individual,” says Powell. “And it wasn’t having a gun or not having a gun, because a gun don’t hurt people; people hurt people. If wasn’t a gun it would have been a knife. If it wasn’t a knife it would have been a bat. If wasn’t a bat, it would have been a stick.”

One of the mothers had a question, however, a question on most all of these mother’s minds: “What caused you to do this?” she asked. “What happened at home? What made you do what you decided to do?”   

Powell remembered how hard his own mother tried to keep him in line, and he told them he thought it was never the mother’s fault. “I got whoopin’s, real whoopin’s, the kind of stuff a person would get locked up for now these days,” he says.

But without the guidance of a man in his life, he says, he learned how to handle his emotions on the street “from somebody I wasn’t supposed to learn from.”

“I wanted to be respected,” Powell says. “I didn’t care what happened. If I felt disrespected in any kind of way, I’m going to get this fully automatic weapon, and I’m going to procure it, we’re going to strap up and come through, and we’re going to shoot your block up.”

What he needed, and what kids now need, he says, is consistent adult male guidance, engaged role models for teens at an already volatile age. Families need men to teach their boys “about who you are, where you come from, and where you fit in relation to everything going on around you.”

“I’m not talking down on legislation in no kind of way,” Powell says. “But we’ve got to deal with it in our own communities and our own households.”

“We have to make sure that our kids is getting raised and taught right, because the first formal organization outside yourself is your family, your family structure, and then it’s the community, because the community is a collection of families, and until you get that foundation strong, we’re going to keep producing these little kids who don’t think nothing about nobody,” he says.

The issue of single parent households and the absence of black fathers has a long and stormy history going back to the 1965 Moynihan Report. It was also a controversial theme of President Barack Obama, who grew up without a father, and said to many black fathers were “acting like boys instead of men.”

In 2008, Mr. Obama cited figures that showed children who grew up without a father were “five times more likely to live in poverty and commit crime, nine times more likely to drop out of schools and 20 times more likely to end up in prison.” However, the direct correlation has been vigorously contested, and other surveys suggest a much more complicated picture.

Most of the mothers agree with Powell. “I’m not a legislation-type person, either,” says Daphne Alston, president and founder of M.O.M.S. “I will support things, I just believe in being on the ground – it’s important to me that we touch each child individually,” she says. “That’s how we’re going to change what’s going on.”

Coming Thursday: Part 2, The mothers of Eric Garner and Ramarley Graham reflect on New York's new direction.

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Reaching for equity

A global series on gender and power

3. India's police ask: When is 'women only' good for women?

Raising women's profile in policing harassment seems logical. But it has had unintended consequences: segregating the issue for some instead of prompting a broader swath of society to challenge their thinking about a corrosive problem.

Amelia
Members of the newly launched female police squad in Jaipur, India, patrol near a city gate Jan. 19.
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Ahmer Khan/Special to The Christian Science Monitor
 

The 30 Sec. ReadA woman wearing a lime-green sari arrives at the police station, mother and two children in tow. The station is far from home, but she’s sought it out on neighbors’ advice. Her mission: to lodge a complaint against her husband, who has turned violent. “I knew I should go to the police, but I hesitated,” she says. “Then when I heard about this station, I was encouraged. I thought it would be easier to discuss my problem with other women.” Indeed, all of the officers at this station are women. It’s one move in Jaipur’s police campaign to innovate in ways that enhance women’s security, and reduce rampant public sexual harassment, called “Eve-teasing.” And it’s one manifestation of India’s deep soul-searching over gender-based violence and abuse, spurred by a vicious gang rape five years ago. “Women’s only” initiatives like motorbike patrols and police stations can help change attitudes for the better, and encourage reporting, advocates say. But critics argue they’re mere window dressing, letting top brass contend they are improving women’s safety while in fact shunting it aside. 

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3. India's police ask: When is 'women only' good for women?

For Tanvi Tamwar, a college senior in this northwest Indian city famous for its pink sandstone monuments, getting to school used to mean running a daily gantlet.

“Often there were suspicious men on the bus who made all kinds of remarks to you. Right up to the school entrance there would be groups of boys hanging around, Eve-teasing,” she recalls, using the local expression for India’s rampant sexual harassment.

Then last May the Jaipur police introduced all-female police units: two women per motorbike to patrol hotspots such as bus stops, shopping malls, parks – and the gates of female schools and colleges like Ms. Tamwar’s.

Members of a women's police patrol unit drive through the old city of Jaipur, India on Jan. 19, 2018.
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Ahmer Khan/Special to The Christian Science Monitor

“We feel safer and a little more free when these patrols are here” the sociology major says, standing with friends in the courtyard of Pareek PG Girls College. “It’s true that when the lady police are gone some of those boys come back. But overall it’s positive.”

Jaipur’s 28 all-female units, among the first in India, are just one manifestation of a deep national soul-searching over the scourges of sexual harassment and gender-based violence – and police’s role in fighting them. Along with all-female police stations, they’re meant to encourage more women to come forward and report abuse. But the question for many women’s groups is whether such “all women” initiatives can change the underlying attitudes that so often allow it to go unchecked. Many argue they are little more than window dressing, letting top brass contend they are addressing women’s safety while in fact shunting it aside.

In 2012, India was shaken by the vicious gang rape of a young woman on a private bus in New Delhi. The attack lasted more than an hour; neither the police nor any witness intervened. The victim, who became known as Nirbhaya – Hindi for “fearless” – died from her injuries.

Huge demonstrations erupted in protest at what women’s groups decried as a culture of rape that either downplays sexual crimes or holds the victims to blame, while trivializing harassment by dismissing it as “boys will be boys” Eve-teasing.

The “Nirbhaya effect” has led to special courts to speed the adjudication of sexual-violence cases, and to tougher rape sentences. The public outcry has also prompted a raft of police reforms designed to show that the force is serious about tackling gender-based crimes.

The outcry could also account for a recent increase in the number of reported rape cases. New Delhi police data show a 67 percent jump in such cases from 2012 to 2016, but experts differ over whether the figures reflect a real increase in the number of incidents, or simply better reporting.

Women helping women

In Jaipur, the capital of conservative Rajasthan state, the all-female patrol units are the latest move in a police campaign to enhance women’s security. The city also has four all-women police stations, envisioned as places where abused and threatened women can feel safe airing sometimes very private complaints with female officers.

India has hundreds of such police stations, many of which predate the Nirbhaya case. But it’s the female patrol units that have put Jaipur in the national spotlight, making the city a focal point for the debate over women in policing and gender-based violence.

The only real solution, say some activists, is to increase the number of women in the police force – they currently make up less than 10 percent of officers – and to make sexual harassment a matter for everyday police work.

An Indian police constable speaks with a student inside a women's college on Jan. 19, 2018, in Jaipur, India.
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Ahmer Khan/Special to The Christian Science Monitor

“By and large these parallel all-women police stations don’t work and in fact are a distraction from the central objective, which is the mainstreaming of women into the police,” says Devika Prasad, coordinator of the police reforms program at the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative in New Delhi.

“Women need to be integrated into all levels of police work and not just relegated to the back office,” she argues.

Sanjay Agarwal, Jaipur’s Commissioner of Police, wouldn’t disagree. Currently, only 12 percent of his officers are women, but he says that “the ideal police station would be 50 percent women, with those women working at all levels of police work and the public seeing them at all levels of authority.

“Those are the goals the government is directing us to reach,” he points out.

But such reforms do not happen overnight. In the meantime, he says, “we are doing things that put the women officers we have in the frontlines. And we are taking steps that will help women who have had some atrocity committed against them not feel intimidated, but empowered to come to the police.”

And come to the police they do. At a weekly meeting of Jaipur’s all-female patrol units, the stories that their 56 members tell illustrate how young women, especially, are turning to them.

One by one, the “lady constables,” dressed in crisp navy uniforms and blue caps, stand to report their experiences over the previous week. One tells of a 13-year-old girl who ran to her to complain about older boys pursuing her and taunting her in a nearby park; another recounts how a university student approached her about a young man threatening to put her picture on social media and post lies about her relationships with men if she didn’t agree to befriend him.

Then discussion turns to the frequently-reported problem of young men on motorbikes who verbally harass women and sometimes physically intimidate them.

A female police constable looks over a log of complaints filed at the Gandhinagar all-women police station on Jan. 20, 2018, in Jaipur, India. Deputy police commissioner Kamal Shekhawat sits in the back.
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Ahmer Khan/Special to The Christian Science Monitor

Kamal Shekhawat, the deputy police commissioner in charge of the female patrol squads, tells the officers to take down the motorbikes’ registration numbers or to advise the young women to do so.

Ms. Shekhawat, who gave up a university teaching career to join the police, says those weekly reporting sessions remind her why India needs female police squads and its “1090” dedicated women’s emergency helpline.

“Five years isn’t very much time for society to change,” she says, referring to the Nirbhaya case and the subsequent groundswell for reform. “So while we are taking important steps like increasing the number of women police officers and implementing gender-sensitivity training for all our officers, we also have to remember we’re serving a very conservative, traditional population that changes slowly.”

Push back, push forward

Renuka Pamecha, a prominent women’s rights veteran who heads the Protect Jaipur Women organization, says she does not see even slow progress.

“The national mindset is not changing,” Ms. Pamecha continues. “Women are more educated and more aware of their rights, and laws are changing, but the society remains orthodox and we see the reaction to the empowering of women in all these cases of violence against women.”

Pamecha no longer sees all-women police stations as the solution she once thought they would be. Although individual women might feel more comfortable going to such stations, she acknowledges, she does not feel that “segregation” helps the broader struggle for women’s rights. All-female patrols may help, she says, but she suspects they may end up acting as a kind of "morality police," as patrols elsewhere in India have been accused of doing.

“In this country the boys need to learn how to socialize with girls, we need to raise boys’ awareness of the issues girls are facing,” she says. “And we’re not doing that.”

A woman and her mother speak to police at the Gandhinagar all-women police station in Jaipur, India, where the woman is seeking to file a complaint against her abusive husband, on Jan. 20, 2018.
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Ahmer Khan/Special to The Christian Science Monitor

Still, a few hours spent at Jaipur’s Gandhinagar all-women police station offer evidence of its empowering effect.

The station’s captain, Veena Singh, receives a young woman who had filed a complaint against her husband weeks earlier, saying he turned abusive when he drank. Today she has returned, husband and young son in tow, to withdraw her complaint. She says notice of the complaint and the obligatory counseling that it entailed, have had a positive impact.

When Capt. Singh asks if what the wife says is true, the sheepish husband nods his head, yes. The complaint is withdrawn.

Later a woman wearing a purple shawl over a lime-green sari arrives with her mother and two children to complain about her husband. The couple has been arguing about installing a latrine, she says – ending “open defecation” is a sanitation priority for the Indian government – and he has become violent.

The desperate woman sought the advice of neighbors, who told her about the all-women police stations.  The woman decided she was at a point where she had to do something, and even though the Gandhinagar station is far from her home, she came to tell her story.

“I knew I should go to the police, but I hesitated,” she says. “Then when I heard about this station, I was encouraged. I thought it would be easier to discuss my problem with other women.”

Her choice is a small victory for Jaipur’s policy of giving women the opportunity to talk to other women privately about their personal issues. And on the city’s streets, Tanvi Tamwar, the sociology student, says she has noticed the female police patrols making a difference, too.

“I think seeing these lady police is changing attitudes in many ways; even boys are changing in the way they are approaching girls,” she says. “Maybe not so fast, but there is change.”

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4. In Britain, a collective push to tackle loneliness

Prime Minister Theresa May won rare cross-party praise for giving governmental attention to the growing problem of social isolation in Britain. But part of the solution may rest at home as well: by just saying hello to your neighbor.

Amelia
 

The 30 Sec. ReadWhen Prime Minister Theresa May appointed Britain’s first minister for loneliness, it underscored the scale of the challenge facing an atomized society. Surveys show that Britons feel the most alone of all Europeans. Isolated from family and friends, their health often suffers as a result. And it’s the elderly – men like Frank Buckley, a widower living in a rural town – who are most at risk. Lately, though, Mr. Buckley has found a way out of his isolation: a woodworking club in a refurbished barn that aims to coax lonely men out of their homes. The Men’s Shed is the kind of initiative that Tracey Crouch, the new minister, will be examining as she formulates the government’s response. Buckley’s path offers some hope. After his wife died, he started spending more time at the barn so he wasn’t sitting at home. “There are a couple of other people now in the same kind of situation who are bereaved and it does help to share that,” he says.

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4. In Britain, a collective push to tackle loneliness

Frank Buckley, a widowed retiree, puts the kettle on after spending his second day this week doing woodwork in an old converted barn with a group of other men. His group of amateur carpenters are part of a national initiative for socially isolated Britons called – what else? – The Men’s Shed project that has opened more than 400 communal sheds for men who have retired or are unable to work due to disability or unemployment.

“It’s good because a few men get together, have a cup of tea and help each other with bits and pieces using the wood lathe and other tools,” says Mr. Buckley.

The Men’s Shed is just one way that Britons are trying to tackle the growing problem of loneliness in a country where nine million people are either always or often lonely, according to a 2017 study by The Co-op and the British Red Cross. Britain has been dubbed Europe's loneliness capital: Britons are less likely to know their neighbors than residents anywhere else in Europe, and a high proportion of the population says they have no one to rely on in a crisis.

These fraying social bonds, and the health risks associated with them, led the British government to appoint last month its first-ever minister for loneliness. The new minister, Conservative MP Tracey Crouch, will work with businesses and charities to draw up a government strategy to tackle the problem.

The ministerial post was one of the recommendations of a parliamentary commission that published its findings in December. Rachel Reeves, an opposition lawmaker who co-chaired the commission, called loneliness in Britain a social epidemic. “When the culture and the communities that once connected us to one another disappear, we can be left feeling abandoned and cut off from society,” she said in a speech to announce the report. 

That’s how it felt for Buckley, now 69, when his wife fell sick. In her final years, he was her sole care-giver; the couple had no children and their relatives live elsewhere. He was also struggling to adjust to retirement after losing his last job as a driver for a patient transfer service and not being able to find further work in this corner of rural Shropshire, bracketed between Wales and the industrial Midlands.

“I didn’t enjoy being unemployed. You just spend time sitting and doing nothing and you become morose,” he says. His wife encouraged him to join the woodworking group and he found that it helped, particularly after she passed in 2016 and he was home alone.

“When I lost my wife, I started going to the shed twice a week as I wanted something to occupy my time so I wasn’t just sat on my own at home. There are a couple of other people now in the same kind of situation who are bereaved and it does help to share that,” he says.

The group also does volunteer work in the community and Buckley belongs to a social club that meets for Sunday lunch.

An unhealthy problem

The problem of social isolation is more than individuals simply feeling lonely – research shows that loneliness can have detrimental effects on both mental and physical health. One study by Age UK found that nearly a third of older men who have health problems are lonely. While chronic loneliness may not have caused their health problems, other studies have found it is as dangerous as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, as bad for you as obesity, and can increase the likelihood of an early death by 26 percent. 

Britain’s economy is also feeling the pinch. A study published last year found that social isolation could cost the British economy £32 billion ($44 billion) annually. The research, commissioned by the Eden Project, based its estimate on the cost of additional health and welfare spending and of an overall loss of economic productivity in disconnected communities.

So why is the problem so much greater in the UK compared to its European peers? Edward Davies, the head of policy for the Centre for Social Justice, a right-leaning think tank, says there are many theories. One starts with the breakdown of the nuclear family in modern Britain, where 42 percent of marriages now end in divorce and where more people are choosing to remain single.

“Historically more people were in pairs, and grandparents would live with their adult children rather than living alone. There has been a big shift away from that in just a couple of generations and we haven’t quite confronted it as a society,”  he says. 

Another factor cited by Mr. Davies and other researchers is that British society is becoming more individualistic. Recent figures show that only 13 percent – just 2.6 million workers – are members of a union, down from nearly one in two workers in 1979. A recent surge of new members in the opposition Labour Party belies a steady, decades-long decline in British political-party membership. “There seems to be a wider disinterest in being part of something bigger but it means when life gets tough, you don’t have those structures to fall back on,” says Davies. 

A respite from Brexit

Prime Minister Theresa May’s decision to appoint a minister of loneliness won her a rare burst of cross-party praise and a brief respite from heated Brexit-related politicking.

The parliamentary fact-finding that led to the ministerial post was itself a reminder of that political heat: Its official name is the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness. Ms. Cox, a Labour MP, formed the commission in 2016 before she was murdered by a right-wing extremist in the run-up to the Brexit referendum.

It’s not just older people who struggle with social isolation in Britain. It can also affect new mothers, those caring for family members, and people with disabilities, say researchers. And that isolation is self-reinforcing as more people feel that they are struggling alone and have no one that they can turn to.

While the appointment of a minister solely for the problem of social isolation shows that the  government is getting serious about it, Davies warns that it’s not just something the government can solve. It starts with something as simple as walking out the door and getting involved in the community. “We all need to play our part in helping to reduce our own and everyone else’s isolation,” he says.

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5. US Olympian: faster and stronger for longer – and bringing the kids

We're accustomed to seeing Mom and Dad cheer on children at the Olympic Games. But now more kids are cheering on Mom or Dad, as athletes compete for longer and draw strength from making the experience a family affair.

Amelia
 

The 30 Sec. ReadA full-time athletic career once meant delaying – or even forgoing – parenthood. But increasingly, that’s not the case: 21 parents are competing at the Olympics for Team USA, and more than half will be joined by their children. It’s no coincidence that this year there are also 12 four-time Olympians on the team, triple the number in 2002. Many athletes and teams alike are embracing flexible arrangements to help bring kids on the road, extending parents’ competitive careers; after all, it’s easier to help a champion win again than create a new one from scratch. Biathlon is “an amazing sport,” says four-time Olympian Lowell Bailey. But “life is bigger than just biathlon.” Having wife Erika and young daughter Ophelia with him on the race circuit “allowed me to focus on the things that matter in a race … and because of that, the results actually get better.” So much better, in fact, that last season he became the first American to win a biathlon world championship. Now he’s in Pyeongchang, South Korea, gunning for Team USA’s first Olympic medal in the sport.

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5. US Olympian: faster and stronger for longer – and bringing the kids

There’s something new under the sun in Pyeongchang: the first two American women to become five-time Winter Olympians.

Snowboarder Kelly Clark and cross-country skier Kikkan Randall both began their Olympic careers on home turf in Salt Lake City, and have not only reached the top of their sport but also brought along a new generation of world-class competitors.

They are among a growing number of competitors coming back for successive Olympic Games in record numbers: this year there are 12 four-time Olympians on Team USA – triple the number there were in 2002. So it’s not surprising that today’s 100th US Winter Olympic gold medal came from among that crew of veterans. After all, it’s a lot easier for governing bodies like US Ski & Snowboard to help a champion win again than create one from scratch.

One of the most rewarding ways that teams and athletes alike are fostering those extended careers is by embracing a once-rare idea: bringing babies on the road, rather than quitting to start a family.

At these Games, there are 21 parents competing for Team USA in nine different disciplines, and more than half of them will be joined by their kids here in Pyeongchang. The parent-athletes include 20 fathers and Randall, America’s most decorated female cross-country skier and one of four mothers currently competing on the World Cup circuit. Another is Norwegian Marit Bjoergen, who earned the 11th Olympic medal of her career this week –  a new record for women in the Winter Games.

After Randall gave birth to her baby boy, Breck, in the spring of 2016, US Ski & Snowboard saw it as in their interest to help her return to competition. 

Cross-country skier Kikkan Randall competes in the Women’s 7.5km + 7.5km Skiathlon during the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
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Dominic Ebenbichler/Reuters

“When Kikkan wanted to tour with a baby, we said, ‘OK, how do we get this done?,’ ” says Tom Kelly, vice president of communications for US Ski & Snowboard. “I think our organization has been really dynamic in adjusting to the diverse needs of athletes.”

Three men’s alpine skiers who made this year’s team also bring their spouses and babies on the Europe-based World Cup circuit, which stretches from November to March: Two-time gold medalist Ted Ligety, who got fifth in Tuesday’s combined event; Andrew Weibrecht, who won bronze in the super-G in Vancouver and silver in Sochi; and four-time Olympian Steve Nyman, who will not be competing due to an injury but is already planning his return to competition.

Having a baby on the World Cup circuit presents unusual logistical challenges – not only for the parents, but teammates and coaches. But it also can break tensions and enable athletes to step back and put their competition goals in perspective.

“I found actually that having Breck around was great for my nerves. At the [2017] World Championships, the day of the sprint, I was changing diapers, washing out bottles, just doing my mom thing, and then we went to the race,” says Randall, who won bronze – only to come back and find Breck up in the air with no diaper, and his pants set out to dry, because his grandpa had forgotten to change him during the race. “So then it was like, right back to being mom.

“It was great, because you could be like great, I won a medal today ... I’m really happy that happened, but most of all I’m psyched to just go back to being mom.”

Being a parent and racer at the same time often requires strong support – and not just from grandma and grandpa, but also a team “family.”

“There’s times when it’s kind of like, OK, I’m going to be 100 percent honest, this is now a challenge for me,” says Jessie Diggins, Randall’s teammate, recalling being woken up by Breck’s crying through the thin walls of a hotel – a problem Randall has since tried to address by staying in apartments when possible. “And that is something where I’m like, I’m going to support you. Whatever you want, I want to make that happen, because women shouldn’t have to choose.”

A home away from home

It’s not as hard for Europeans, who can go home in between the weekend World Cup races and see their families, says Ligety.

“So they’re home on Sunday night,” he says. “But for us, if I didn’t have my family traveling with me, it’d be months before I saw them again. That’s not really a feasible option for me.”

Nyman’s solution is to rent an apartment in Innsbruck, Austria, and his wife and baby daughter move in for several months. One month’s rent costs less than a roundtrip ticket, and helps give him a sense of home on the road – and “consistency.”

“I always started the year off hot, and then kind of died, and the past few years it’s been better throughout the end of the year,” he says. “And I think a lot of that is moving the family to Europe and really creating a nice comfortable situation there for me to perform at my height ... and also having my family there to inspire me.”

Biathlete Lowell Bailey has also found unprecedented success since deciding to bring his wife and daughter on the road. The four-time Olympian in biathlon, which combines cross-country skiing and marksmanship, had fully planned on retiring just before his wife, Erika, gave birth to their daughter Ophelia. But at the last minute he decided to keep competing – on one condition: That Erika and Ophelia go on the road with him.

“It’s an amazing sport.... But it’s a sport, and life is bigger than just biathlon,” he says. “It’s easy to forget that when you’re on a World Cup tour and the only thing you’re surrounded with is biathlon, from when you wake up at night to when you go to sleep at night.”

Having Erika and Ophelia along “allowed me to focus on the things that matter in a race … and not, boy, I hope I get this result that I really want badly and if I don’t get the result, man, I’m just really upset about that.… And because of that, the results actually get better.”

So much better, in fact, that last season he became the first American to win a biathlon world championship. Now he’s at the Olympics gunning for America’s first Olympic medal in the sport. He enters the individual 20 km race on Thursday night.

Unfortunately, Erika and Ophelia won’t be here to see him in person, nor will Randall have Breck watching her in Thursday’s 10 km cross-country race. The logistics of bringing a family to the Olympics, with its hierarchy of security that creates barriers between athletes and everyone else, are extremely complicated.

But Ligety, bobsledder Nathan Weber, curler John Shuster, freestyle skier David Wise, and half a dozen men’s ice hockey players will have their children here to see them compete and create some Olympic memories.

That’s something Nyman looks forward to creating for his daughter in the next season or two, when she’s a little older.

“And she can remember, whoa, I was in Europe, I was there, and I was in those mountains, I was at the bottom of the race cheering on my dad,” he says. “That will be cool.”

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The Monitor's View

South Africa’s struggle for honest leaders

 

The 30 Sec. ReadSouth Africa once showed how to uproot official racism and replace it with democratic values such as equality. Now, with President Jacob Zuma forced from office, the country is showing how to replace official corruption with values such as transparency and accountability. The political events that have transpired reflect a struggle that – much like the anti-apartheid one – relies heavily on civic activism as well as a free press and independent courts. The outcry against Mr. Zuma first escalated in 2016 with a report by the public prosecutor on the influence of three businessmen in government affairs. Then, last April, people took to the streets to protest Zuma’s firing his finance minister. In the meantime, the press and other investigators kept digging up revelations of wrongdoing. And the courts kept the pressure on Zuma. None of this would have happened if South Africans themselves had not embraced the basic principles of democracy. 

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South Africa’s struggle for honest leaders

Just a quarter century ago, South Africa was a model in how to uproot official racism and replace it with democratic values such as equality. Now, with President Jacob Zuma forced from office, it may offer yet another model. This time, South Africans are showing how to replace official corruption with values such as transparency and accountability.

Mr. Zuma, who faces 783 counts of corruption as well as charges he misused public funds, had become so unpopular that the ruling African National Congress (ANC) had to act. On Feb. 13, it asked him to step down. Two days later, he resigned.

These political events reflect an anti-corruption struggle in South Africa – much like the anti-apartheid one – that relies heavily on civic activism as well as a free press and independent courts. The ANC has been losing local elections and much of the public support it earned during the fight against white rule.

The party of the late Nelson Mandela has also failed to deliver on its economic promises – a failure which many South Africans tie to official corruption. A former finance minister estimates the country loses 5 percent of its gross domestic product to official graft.

The outcry against Zuma first escalated in 2016 with a report by the public prosecutor on the influence of three businessmen in government affairs, or what is called “state capture.” Then last April, people took to the streets to protest Zuma’s firing of his finance minister.

In the meantime, the press and other investigators kept digging up revelations of wrongdoing. And the courts forced Zuma to keep responding to corruption charges, a sign of how much the country relies on its post-apartheid Constitution to maintain rule of law.

All this would not have happened if South Africans themselves had not embraced the basic principles of democracy. Ousting Zuma is a triumph of constitutionalism, or an understanding that all people are entitled to be ruled equally and by honest leaders.

The ANC plans to clean up its own house by replacing Zuma with Cyril Ramaphosa, a former union leader who became a successful businessman. He promises to crack down on corruption as he finishes Zuma’s term until 2019. After that, the people will decide if he and the ANC deserve another chance. The people, after all, are the leaders of South Africa’s model of an anti-corruption struggle.

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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.

Significant other, or significant one?

 

Today’s column explores the idea that everyone is precious in the eyes of God, who knows us as the cherished reflection of divine Love.

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Significant other, or significant one?

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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My friend Gail was trying to put up a brave front. It had been a tough day for her as she watched a steady parade of Valentine bouquets being delivered to her female colleagues. In past years she would have been on the receiving end, too. But now, newly divorced, she had no red roses coming her way. Sitting at her unadorned desk, hearing her co-workers’ “oohs” and “aahs” of delight, my friend felt insignificant.

Later that day, at a women’s assertiveness training course, she found her fellow singles equally miserable. Letting loose with her tears, she shared details of her humiliation at the office. After a pause, the group facilitator asked, “And what have you done to ensure that the next Valentine’s Day won’t be the same?”

Gail was stunned. Surely it wasn’t her responsibility to make things better, she thought. Wasn’t it up to someone else to waltz into her life and transform it with dimension and direction?

If Gail’s experience strikes close to home, you’re not alone. Many of us have had that yearning for romance and companionship and, perhaps, too, for the stamp of the significance of being in a twosome.

Longing, even scheming, may indeed result in a date, even the heady rush of romance. But once the dust has settled, most of us inevitably find a relationship requires more than eagerness to please. For a relationship to thrive, each partner has to draw from her or his special brand of unique strengths and insights.

But what if we’ve lost track of that uniqueness? And where can we go to find a selfhood that’s precious on its own merits – regardless of what our relationship status is or what we’d like it to be?

I’ve found that we can go to God. The Bible shares this tender assurance: “I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine.... [B]ring my sons from far, and my daughters from the ends of the earth; even every one that is called by my name: for I have created him for my glory” (Isaiah 43:1, 6, 7).

What a tribute to our worthiness – that God should claim us as His own! It’s one thing to be a person’s significant other. Quite another to be God’s significant one. Made in divine Spirit’s likeness, for God’s glory, we have a marvelous wholeness, brimming with qualities such as creativity, flexibility, and tenderness – all good components of happy human relationships, whether with a significant other, family member, or friend.

Gradually my friend grasped these empowering truths about herself. Shedding that old neediness, she said she felt spiritually grounded. So much so that her next Valentine’s Day was different – she had developed a rich sense of her self-worth, with or without the flowers.

And this helped her find her path forward – a path that, for her, included remarriage, and she’s known for bringing her own special buoyancy and love to her family and her community of friends.

Maybe Cupid hasn’t made an appearance in your life. Regardless of whether or not marriage is our heart’s desire, angels of another type are always present for all of us. In “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” Christian Science discoverer Mary Baker Eddy describes these celestial angels as “pure thoughts from God, winged with Truth and Love” (p. 298). They are thoughts that reassure us, moment by moment, that we have precious status in the eyes of God, who knows us as the cherished reflection of divine Love, not solitary mortals.

This goes deeper than our human relationship status. It’s about realizing everyone’s completeness as an expression of God. As such, we are quite wonderful just as we are. And it’s inevitable that the more we understand this, the more inclined we are to give a kindly boost to others.

For instance, I once acted on the inspiration to send a bouquet to a family friend on Valentine’s Day. Later I found out that this woman’s daughter was very impressed by the unexpected flowers she saw her mother receive – so much so that she began showing her mother more attention and respect.

We can always find someone on whom to shower our affections. The world is full of people needing to know they’re valued. We can’t send them all flowers. But we can embrace them in our thoughts as “significant ones” – trusting God to deliver the good news of their worth, as He’s delivering ours to us now.

Other versions of this article appeared in the Feb. 14, 2005, issue of the Christian Science Sentinel and aired on the Feb. 14, 2018, Christian Science Daily Lift podcast.

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Viewfinder

A Valentine’s moment

A couple got playful on the Bridge of Love in Kiev, Ukraine, Feb. 14.
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Efrem Lukatsky/AP
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte and Karen Norris. )
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In Our Next Issue

( February 15th, 2018 )

Thanks for joining us today. Tomorrow, we'll delve into the cultural impact of the latest superhero movie. “Black Panther” is the first Marvel movie to have a black director and an almost entirely black cast. It’s about seeing a positive image of black people, one young African-American says, “rather than a negative one you’ve been force-fed your whole life.”

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