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.


Monitor correspondents have often shared anecdotes about behind-the-scenes experiences with readers. Some are humorous: A pronunciation error recently resulted in sitting down with the wrong (and puzzled) source. Others surface the emotional and physical challenges of reporting events like Haiti’s 2010 earthquake.

But when I attended the International Press Institute’s annual gathering of international news editors Monday, a darker and growing side of reporting came up: harassment. The Committee to Protect Journalists lays out some of the heaviest tolls, including murder with impunity, and the 262 correspondents imprisoned globally in 2017. But there are less visible developments. Reasonable reporters have been manhandled out of political rallies, aggressively challenged at national borders, and targeted online with sexualized threats. An attitude creeps in: If journalists are under attack, isn’t it really their fault? Don’t they all have an agenda anyway?

Most journalists are motivated to inform, accurately. If they are gradually silenced or young people decide the profession’s costs outweigh benefits, what happens? In Burundi, critical coverage of a referendum Thursday on whether the president can govern indefinitely is disappearing as publications are shut down and journalists jailed. In Hungary, a national opposition daily is the most recent casualty of an increasingly authoritarian atmosphere. In the United States, legitimate work is dismissed as “fake,” giving members of a democracy a pass on shouldering a key responsibility: being informed.

The many news outlets that produce such work take complaints seriously and are trying to be more transparent about how they work. It's worth thinking about how to engage with them on that journey.


Now to our five stories, including a global report on the impact of the US's withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal and how Ohio is trying to help businesses and potential employees overcome obstacles posed by opioid use.

1. North Korea: Looking past the posturing – and into intent

Momentum toward a Trump-Kim summit got a reality check this week as North Korea signaled it might not come to the table. That underscored the complexity of the North's nuclear negotiating style, and the care the United States will have to take as it approaches talks.


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North Korea periodically blows up bits of its nuclear weapons production infrastructure. Back in 2008, it was a cooling tower for a plutonium-production reactor, exploded for the cameras. Ten years later it’s going to be North Korea’s nuclear test site, perhaps. North Korean officials have invited select media to watch explosions meant to seal test site tunnels in late May. Whether this occurs remains open: North Korean officials this week said there might not be a summit between President Trump and Kim Jong-un after all. They’re angry about the way US officials keep talking about complete North Korean denuclearization. But the destruction shows how verification would be at the heart of any deal. The cooling tower wasn’t as crucial as it seemed; Pyongyang already had a secret uranium enrichment plant that could produce fissile material. As for the test site, North Korea might have another, hidden in the mountains. In 2018, it’s Mr. Kim’s intent, not explosions, that remains crucial. And opaque. “Their willingness to dismantle the test site is a positive sign. Whether they are sincere or not remains to be seen,” says Jon Wolfsthal, director of the Nuclear Crisis Group.


North Korea: Looking past the posturing – and into intent

On June 27, 2008, North Korea blew up a big symbol of its nascent nuclear program, the cooling tower of the plutonium-producing reactor at the Yongbyon nuclear site. First, a cloud of smoke erupted from the beaker-shaped structure. Then explosions ringing the base leveled the remains.

The destruction was meant to symbolize progress in six-party disarmament talks. But good feelings didn’t last. Within weeks a developing deal to end North Korea’s nuclear ambitions fell apart, in part because Pyongyang got a look at sweeping and intrusive US plans for verifying such an agreement.

Almost exactly 10 years later, North Korea is again planning an explosive event meant to showcase its nuclear intentions. North Korean officials say that in late May they will shut down their nuclear test site by blowing up and sealing entrances to tunnels.

Is that a big deal? Not by itself, say some US experts. North Korea may not need to test weapons designs for the foreseeable future. Tunnels could be dug again if necessary. Other, secret test sites might already exist.

Pyongyang remains an opaque, unpredictable negotiations partner – as shown by this week’s sudden threat to cancel the scheduled summit between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. In that context, gestures are difficult to interpret. It’s what happens in hard bargaining that really counts.

“Their willingness to dismantle the test site is a positive sign. Whether they are sincere or not remains to be seen,” says Jon Wolfsthal, a nuclear non-proliferation expert and director of the Nuclear Crisis Group.

Sudden cold after apparent thaw

In the short term, North Korea’s sudden warning that it might still withdraw from the planned leaders’ summit in Singapore was a dose of cold reality for a geopolitical situation that had seemed to be thawing. This wasn’t Mr. Kim smiling and stepping across the border hand-in-hand with South Korean President Moon Jae-in. It was North Korea objecting to US-South Korean air-power exercises, and a North Korean disarmament official rejecting what he said were US efforts to force his nation into “unilateral nuclear abandonment.”

The sudden anger might be an indirect way of attempting to counter Washington’s hard-line rhetoric on the upcoming meeting. National security adviser John Bolton – who drew Pyongyang’s ire by name – has talked of the “Libya solution” to North Korean nuclear weapons. That would mean Pyongyang would simply turn all nuclear material and devices over to US control and wave goodbye.

That’s not going to happen, says Mr. Wolfsthal. But that does not mean negotiations are worthless. It is possible there are phased solutions or less-ambitious agreements to be reached.

“I think that Trump’s optimism was not justified,” says Wolfsthal, referring to the confident way the president has predicted North Korean denuclearization. “But global pessimists are also not justified.”

The destruction of the Yongbyon cooling tower in 2008 is perhaps an example of North Korea’s tough, incremental nuclear negotiating tactics. On the one hand, it was a spectacular, camera-ready event. A valuable asset was rendered inoperative. On the other hand, the cooling tower was perhaps not as crucial as it first appeared.

Though the explosion meant North Korea had lost the ability to produce plutonium, the heart of nuclear weapons, the country was working on secret uranium enrichment plants capable of producing another kind of fissile material. And plutonium production could have been restarted if necessary.

In 2010, North Korean officials invited Siegfried Hecker, former director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, to visit the Yongbyon site. Its chief engineer told Dr. Hecker that the plutonium-production reactor had been placed in standby status.

“My assessment is that they could resume all plutonium operations within approximately six months,” Hecker wrote after his visit.

Verification will be central

Overhead photography provides evidence that the plutonium production reactor has since restarted, with its cooling water discharge pipe extended far down a nearby river to cover up tell tale heat signatures. In turn, this is evidence for an obvious point: verification arrangements will be central to any North Korean denuclearization agreement.

North Korean activities at its Yongbyon nuclear complex and the test site at Punggye-ri have been well documented by US surveillance capabilities. But over half of the country’s nuclear facilities are outside these two main areas, and some remain unknown, said David Albright, a nuclear inspections expert and president of the Institute for Science and International Security, at a presentation early this week, citing an official source.

For instance, North Korea has one known gas centrifuge uranium enrichment facility at Yongbyon. But many experts have long suspected there is a second, hidden such facility somewhere in the country where North Korean scientists first fiddled with this tricky technology.

It is even possible there is a second test site that has gone undetected by US spy equipment. The official North Korean release discussing the explosion of tunnels referred to Punggye-ri as the “northern” test site, implying the existence of a southern counterpart.

A verification regime for a North Korea nuclear agreement will have to permit access to sites, including military sites; nuclear personnel; and documents, said Mr. Albright, according to PowerPoint slides that accompanied his presentation.

North Korea “needs to make an early concrete demonstration of its commitment to denuclearization. Closing the Punggye-ri Underground Test Site, while welcome, is not sufficient,” according to Albright.

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2. The world weighs in on US Iran-deal withdrawal

Whatever the practical ramifications of the Trump administration's decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal, it also sent a signal about the diplomatic reliability of the United States. We wanted to explore how other countries interpreted it.

Yves Herman/Reuters
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif leaves the European Council headquarters in Brussels May 15.

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At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, last January, President Trump insisted that his trademark "America First" policy “does not mean America alone.” But when Mr. Trump pulled the United States out of the Iran nuclear deal last week, reneging on an agreement negotiated and supported by close US allies, he displayed a bluntly unilateralist outlook that suggests he cares little whether or not the US is isolated. Whatever impact Trump's decision has on Iran and its nuclear program, it has sent a message to governments around the globe about Washington's willingness to live up to its word, even as presidents change. And observers generally say that message has not been well received. “It tells other countries … that the US can’t be trusted to keep its word from one administration to another,” says Makau Mutua, chairman of the Kenyan Human Rights Commission. “That is not how great powers conduct policy.” And while faith in the US recedes, China and Russia are nibbling at the edges of the US mantle of global leadership.


The world weighs in on US Iran-deal withdrawal

At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, last January, President Trump insisted that his trademark America First policy “does not mean America alone.”

But when Mr. Trump pulled the United States out of the Iran nuclear deal last week, he ignored and antagonized Washington’s oldest and closest allies; he reneged on an international agreement enshrined in a United Nations resolution; and he displayed a bluntly unilateralist outlook that suggested he cares little whether or not the US is isolated.

That left friends and foes alike around the world scrambling to figure out the shape of the new world order that Trump is fashioning.

“Trump’s policies have really forced a lot of countries that have alliances with the US to start thinking about how their security arrangements would look without the US and what are the alternatives,” says Lauren Richardson, head of the Asia-Pacific College of Diplomacy at Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra. “It could really end up being America alone.”

The president’s disdain for a commitment made by his predecessor had international observers shaking their heads. “It tells other countries … that the US can’t be trusted to keep its word from one administration to another,” says Makau Mutua, chairman of the Kenyan Human Rights Commission. “That is not how great powers conduct policy.”

Washington’s threats to punish foreign firms that continue to do business with Iran, as their governments seek to keep the nuclear deal alive, has prompted an indignant response from Europe, whose leaders all support the 2015 accord. It is “unacceptable” that the US is acting “like the planet’s economic gendarme,” French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire declared last week.

The reality of US global economic and military clout means European nations perhaps have little choice but to accept US dictates. Elsewhere in the world, though, as Trump shows scant regard for anyone else’s opinions, China and Russia are nibbling at the edges of the US mantle of global leadership.

There are fears, says Ian Lesser, head of the German Marshall Fund Brussels office, that “a world without American leadership in key areas is going to be a world in disorder.”

Going it alone, but where?

Last week’s decision to withdraw from the multilateral deal with Tehran was not the first time the Trump administration has preferred to go its own way in the face of almost universal international condemnation. Last June, Washington pulled out of the Paris climate change accord; the US is the only country to reject it. This week, the US moved its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem; so far only Guatemala has followed suit.

And Trump is bucking the international trading system, threatening to slap tariffs not only on China but on allies such as Canada, the European Union, and Japan. He ditched a 12-nation Asia-Pacific free trade deal as soon as he took office, leaving the other members to proceed on their own.

Over the years the US has failed to ratify a good number of international treaties that it had signed. But only once before the current administration had the country withdrawn from an accord that it had previously entered with force of law: in 2001, George W. Bush pulled out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty with Moscow. (In March, Russian President Vladimir Putin linked his government’s drive to build a new generation of nuclear missiles to Mr. Bush’s decision.)

Trump supporters abroad (to be found mainly in Israel and Saudi Arabia) have welcomed his reversal of Barack Obama’s signature achievement as evidence that the US president is a man of his word. “He said he would walk out on the deal, and he walked out on the deal,” points out Meir Javedanfar, a lecturer at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya in Israel.

Most international observers, though, fear that the move makes US policy dangerously unpredictable. “Now it looks like the Americans can just withdraw from [an international agreement] if a new president comes who doesn’t like this or that about it,” says Vladimir Zharikhin, an analyst at the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow. “Nobody can be sure of anything if the American mood changes.”

At ground zero of the immediate crisis, Iran, deep mistrust of Washington has been widespread since the CIA organized a coup in 1953. The Islamic revolution in 1979 made hostility to the US a national ideology, and the 444-day takeover of the US Embassy in Tehran sealed many Americans’ mistrust of Iran. Now, Trump’s decision has strengthened the hardliners who never liked the compromises that Tehran made under the deal to get sanctions lifted.

Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, argued consistently that Western powers could not be trusted to keep their word. “Even Ayatollah Khamenei could not have known how the heavens would oblige to prove him right in his skepticism about the US,” says Ali Vaez, an Iran analyst at the Brussels-based think tank International Crisis Group.

The (nuclear) fallout

Following the fate of the Iran nuclear deal with particular interest is Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader due to meet President Trump next month to negotiate his own denuclearization deal. Will the manner in which Trump reneged on the Iran agreement give him extra pause for thought about the value of any North Korean accord with the US?

Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service/AP
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (l.) shakes hands with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un during a meeting at Workers' Party of Korea headquarters in Pyongyang, North Korea.

Probably not, thinks Tong Zhao, who researches nuclear policy at the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy in Beijing – because Mr. Kim does not trust Washington in any case. “North Korea has always planned on trusting its own [nuclear] deterrent rather than any US security guarantee,” Dr. Tong says.

But the Iran example “will give North Korea a better excuse to say to the US president ‘Look, I can hardly trust you, so any denuclearization process has to be a long process of engagement and trust-building,’” he adds.  “It undermines, rather than strengthens, American negotiating leverage.”

On the other hand, argues the ANU’s Dr. Richardson, Trump’s firm stance on the Iran agreement suggests “he is not going to have a lot of patience with denuclearization,” and that if he doesn’t get his way “the US will very quickly slap [Pyongyang] with sanctions and abrogate the deal. That must be pretty worrying for Kim Jong-un.”

On the other side of the world, in Mexico, editorialist Enriqueta Cabrera of El Universal, a Mexico City daily, was unambiguous in her judgment that “Washington’s decisions have turned the US into a partner that can no longer be trusted.”

The key issue for Mexico is the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which Trump has threatened to tear up unless Mexico and Canada meet his demands for a revised deal. 

“NAFTA is the real litmus test for whether it is America First or America Alone,” says Eric Farnsworth, vice president of the Council of the Americas, a group promoting democracy and free trade. The 1994 accord is “the bedrock of US hemispheric policy,” he adds. “If you cut out that foundational piece, what are you left with?”

In Latin America, where governments have long doubted whether Washington has their best interests at heart, Trump’s insistence on a deal on his terms – “my way or the highway” – is fueling mistrust. “In the [negotiating] game of give and take, there is no balance,” complains Analicia Ruiz, an expert on US-Mexican relations at Anahuac University in Mexico City.

The Canadian government is also “deeply worried” by the Trump administration’s international posture says Janice Stein, a veteran foreign affairs analyst at the University of Toronto. “We are also more vulnerable” because of Canada’s heavy economic dependence on the US market, she points out.

Who needs allies?

Trump’s distaste for NAFTA and other multilateral free trade deals is a sign of his reluctance to be constrained by the sort of rules-based order on which the world has functioned since World War II. In the administration’s enthusiasm for acting solely in America’s own interests, “it seems they are picking quarrels with the entire world, aiming to isolate themselves,” says Andrei Klimov, deputy head of the international affairs committee in the Federation Council, Russia’s upper chamber.

David Lawder/Reuters
Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland speaks with reporters after meeting with US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to discuss NAFTA autos negotiations in Washington, D.C., on April 25.

At the very least, the Trump administration is paying little or no attention to Washington’s traditional allies. The president ignored pleas by French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and British Prime Minister Theresa May to save the Iran deal, and in the Middle East “there is definitely a feeling” among US-friendly governments in Jordan and elsewhere “that the current administration is not listening to the advice coming from its allies in the region,” says Nabil Sharif, a former Jordanian cabinet minister.

In Europe, people are wondering whether Donald Trump thinks America needs allies in order to rule the world. The cover of the current edition of Der Spiegel, a German news-magazine, shows Trump as the raised middle finger of a hand, with the caption “Goodbye, Europe!”

Fears are running high that Washington will impose sanctions on European firms if European governments try to keep the Iran deal alive, forcing companies such as Airbus and Total to choose whether to do business in Iran or the US.

“I don’t think European governments or businesses are going to want to put their global commerce in jeopardy over a point of principle on the [Iran] agreement,” says Mr. Lesser.

“The European Union has practically always hesitated to confront the United States,” notes François Nicoullaud, a former French ambassador to Iran. “Europe’s involvement with the United States cannot be compared with its involvement with Iran. At the end of the day, the choice is quite clear.”

Europe and the US have a huge amount in common economically, politically, and in the security sphere, says Lesser. But as differences over issues such as Iran, climate change and trade mount up “it poses the risk of a broader disintegration in trans-Atlantic cooperation,” he says.

Already the signs of strain are showing, and the Europeans are not the only ones to suffer the consequences, says Huang Jing, former head of the Center on Asia and Globalization at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore.

If Trump wants to drive a hard trade bargain with Beijing to protect US property rights and technology, he will need European support, Dr. Huang argues. But “because of the Iran deal, the US has totally lost its solidarity with European countries.”

At the same time, Huang adds, Washington’s major Asian ally, Japan, is unnerved by signs of US unreliability and is hedging its bets. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has made an obvious effort to improve Tokyo’s relations with Beijing and even with Russia. “Japan has been preparing for this unpredictability,” he says.

Carrots or sticks?

Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran deal, coming on top of earlier decisions, has broken the traditional mold of US global leadership that Washington exercised through a network of alliances and institutions. Together they comprised a system built around rules. Now, the US president seems to be counting more on America’s raw power to lay down the law and demand that other countries abide by it.

That is the message of the secondary sanctions that US officials are threatening against any foreign firm that does business with Iran: the sanctions will punish other countries for not agreeing with a unilaterally declared US policy.

The US has the power to do that sort of thing, but it fosters resentment. And the US role in the world is facing challenges.

Even in America’s traditional “backyard”, Latin America, where US dominance is still clear, “new poles of leadership” are emerging, says Mr. Farnsworth, evidenced by rising Chinese investment in the region.

Such investment – and influence – is even more pronounced in Africa, where the Chinese model of authoritarian capitalism appeals to many local rulers and where Trump’s actions are puzzling. “I foresee a situation where African countries will prefer China to the US as an ally,” says Benon Mukundera, an international relations scholar at Kampala University in Uganda. “You do not want to keep a friend who does not keep his word.”

Nowhere is the gathering challenge to US leadership clearer than in the region of the world where Washington has traditionally wielded the greatest clout – the Middle East. “A majority of countries in this region … are looking for US leadership,” says Mr. Javedanfar, the Iranian-born Israeli lecturer and commentator. “And they see Putin stepping in because there has been a void in regards to US leadership. If there is one concern in Israel it is, ‘What is Trump’s Syria strategy?’ Because he does not seem to have one.”

Most strikingly, Moscow has taken over from Washington the role of chief broker in Syrian peace talks and leading outside power. But with Middle East peace and stability apparently not at the top of the US agenda, and with Trump adopting an unabashedly uncritical attitude to Israel, regional powers are stepping up.

Turkey, for example, has adopted a strongly pro-Palestinian stance to forge new ties in the Arab world, and it is building a military presence in the region for the first time. Ankara is planning to station naval vessels and fighter jets in Qatar later this year. Even Egypt, which has been totally dependent on the US for economic and diplomatic support since it made peace with Israel in 1979, is now looking elsewhere.

“America is still a superpower, it still is influential in the Middle East, it still has strong allies in the region, but it is displaying no leadership,” says Oraib Rantawi, head of the Amman-based Al Quds Center for Political Studies, a think tank. “Whether it be getting Israelis and Palestinians to the negotiation table, saving the Iran nuclear deal, or ending the wars in Yemen and Syria, no one is going to the Americans,” he adds.

At the moment it is the Europeans who are feeling the brunt of Donald Trump’s new style. As they wrestle with the prospect of US sanctions should they stick to the Iran nuclear deal, European leaders are beginning to contemplate life without the security blanket of US leadership.

Divisions within Europe are legion, and Chancellor Merkel may have been voicing only a pious hope last week when she insisted that “Europe has to take its destiny into its own hands. That is the task for the future.” But it reflected a bitter conclusion Merkel said she had reached. “It is no longer the case that the United States of America will simply protect us.”

Michael Holtz in Beijing; Sara Miller Llana in Paris; Scott Peterson in London; Whitney Eulich in Mexico City; Taylor Luck in Amman, Jordan; Fred Weir in Moscow; Dina Kraft in Tel Aviv; Mark Oloo in Nairobi, Kenya; and Dylan C. Robertson in Ottawa contributed to this article.


3. In Ohio, out of addiction – and filling a workforce gap

Bucking the narrative of hopelessness around the opioid crisis, communities are responding in valiant ways to match the needs of employers and those striving to get back on their feet.

Christa Case Bryant/The Christian Science Monitor
Flying High, a nonprofit that helps those dealing with substance abuse get back on their feet, offers a 15-week welding training program in Youngstown, Ohio. Trainee Kennedy Stewart, who was nearing completion of her course, hones her skills April 30.

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How is it possible to have people struggling to find jobs and employers struggling to find employees? In Ohio, where the debilitating effects of the opioid crisis on productivity are becoming clear just as the economy is hungry for more output, new initiatives are trying to bridge that gap. The goal is to restore a sense of purpose for those who have battled with opioid addiction, while also enabling businesses to expand their reach – and benefit – to society. A regional chamber of commerce has started offering free drug testing for employers. A nonprofit is providing 15-week welding classes. And Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) of Ohio has partnered with Republican Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of next-door West Virginia to introduce the CARE Act, which would provide a more seamless transition from recovery to employment. “Just because someone makes a mistake in their life doesn’t mean they’re a criminal,” says Mike Oates, who recently started a new welding job after emerging from prison a passionate Christian. He says he became addicted to opioids after he hurt his back on the job in the 1990s and a doctor prescribed them. “You can’t live in your past, because you’re never going to have a future.”


In Ohio, out of addiction – and filling a workforce gap

Bill Cruciger could easily double the staff of his roofing company, Roof Rite, given how strong the economy is right now. And 20 years ago, it wouldn’t have been that hard. There was always a mason or carpenter around who could easily pick up the trade. But today, it’s nearly impossible – especially given the opioid crisis, which has disproportionately hit men without college degrees.

“It’s just mind-blowing how many people we hire who have never pounded a nail before,” says his son, Chris Cruciger, who is general manager of the family-owned company. “That’s why, when you come across someone with a lot of experience and they tell you they can’t pass a drug test, it’s so disappointing.”

The Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber of Commerce says 40 to 60 percent of job applicants are failing drug tests. Once hired, some quit within weeks or even hours. State Rep. Tim Schaffer (R) of Columbus says he’s talked with HVAC contractors who, like Roof Rite, say they could double the size of their operation if they could find qualified applicants. “They are just begging for people who want to make $50,000 to $60,000 per year with a brief training program,” he says.

Indeed, the challenge of finding qualified applicants for skilled labor jobs is a statewide phenomenon. Employers here also talk about applicants who don’t have the soft skills needed for a job interview, like writing a résumé, dressing appropriately, or making eye contact.

“This is not just one employer saying it, this is across the spectrum,” says Chris Ferruso, legislative director for the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) in Ohio, where it has 23,000 members.

Some new initiatives are trying bridge that gap, with the goal of restoring a sense of purpose for those who have struggled with opioid addiction, while also enabling businesses to expand their reach and productivity.

Christa Case Bryant/The Christian Science Monitor
Greg Blasko, one of about 15 employees at Roof Rite, uses a computer-run machine to bend metal sheeting in Boardman, Ohio, May 1. Owner Bill Cruciger says the economy is so hot that he could get enough work to double his staff, but it's been a challenge to find qualified applicants who can pass drug tests.

The Youngstown regional Chamber recently started a new program to cover the cost of drug tests for employers. A local nonprofit, Flying High, has established a robust program of recovery and job-training for both recovering addicts and former felons, and built a network of more than a dozen employers willing to hire their trainees.

And in a bipartisan effort from Congress, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) of Ohio teamed up last month with Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R) from next-door West Virginia to introduce the CARE Act, which would provide $100 million in grants for communities or tribes offering combined addiction recovery and job training programs – two areas that are already federally funded but administered separately. Combining the two would not cost taxpayers any more money, but would help individuals in recovery see a clearer path forward.

“We found fairly often that someone gets treatment, then can’t find a job, and struggles on the streets,” says Senator Brown in a phone interview. “If we can work on those programs together … when they are clean, they can much more likely find a job.” 

He adds he’s willing to work across the aisle with majority leader Mitch McConnell (R) of Kentucky, who has proposed similar legislation. “We will work on this together,” he says.

Chamber offers free drug-testing for employers

Ohio has the second-highest overdose rate in the country, and the state spent more than $1 billion fighting drug abuse and addiction in 2017. But Gov. John Kasich (R) has come under fire for not investing even more, as the trajectory for opioid deaths continues to slope sharply upward. Meth is also on the rise in southern Ohio, and marijuana use is pervasive.

An October 2017 report from Ohio State University found that between 92,000 and 170,000 of Ohioans are addicted to drugs. It also cited a report that estimated that the opioid crisis had cost America $78 billion in 2013; more than half of that cost was attributed to lost productivity.

That is posing an increasing challenge for employers, particularly in trades that involve heavy machinery. Because of the safety hazards of operating such equipment while high, and because Ohio businesses can get a discount on worker compensation premiums for maintaining drug-free workplaces, many employers here require pre-hire drug tests and sometimes screenings of current employees.

Some try to skirt those tests in creative ways.

BJ Panchik of Steward Health Care/WorkMED outside Youngstown, whose office administers drug tests for local employers, has seen it all. One boss even tried to use a contraption called a Whizzinator to smuggle in someone else’s urine and pass it off as his own.

“The hardest part sometimes is keeping a straight face,” she says.“But the fact of the matter is, it’s tragic.”

Last month, the Chamber partnered with her office to provide free drug tests for potential employees through a $20,000 grant. To help them get the biggest bang for their buck, she found a kit that tests for 12 different types of drugs, many of them opiates, and provides results within minutes. It costs only $3.75 compared to $40 for the usual test, which is sent by plane to Minnesota.

“The high percentage of [drug test failures] is crushing our small companies here in the market,” says Nick Santucci, director of education and workforce development for the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber. “We’re hoping that by covering that drug test costs, it will alleviate some of the financial burden on the companies here.”

But it’s not always that simple to match available resources with the need; Mr. Santucci says that despite advertising the free drug-testing program through various channels, including on social media, for a month they haven't had a single company use it so far. And while his data shows there are 17,875 job postings in the area, he often hears people saying there are no jobs.

April Caraway of the Trumbull County Mental Health and Recovery Board, for example, has many people trying to get back into the workforce but stymied by lack of a driver’s license or Social Security card, or by a felony on their record – which, even if officially expunged, can’t be erased completely due to the Internet.

“You guys keep telling me there are all these open jobs in the Valley, and I’ve got all these unemployed people – how can we get these people jobs?” she asked the Chamber. So they worked together to create a list of employers who would consider hiring felons. Anecdotally, she says, recovery house mangers are now seeing a slight improvement in men being able to land jobs.

Welders wielding dry-erase markers

Even if all job applicants could pass drug tests, employers would still have a problem, labor experts say. It stems from what many here see as an unwise decision to push young people en masse toward four-year colleges rather than channeling some into vocational programs.

“We have a long storied history of being a manufacturing powerhouse, and unfortunately so many of those skill sets that are necessary, you just can’t find in Ohio,” says Mr. Ferruso of NFIB.

Christa Case Bryant/The Christian Science Monitor
Workers at Columbiana Boiler Company, many of them career welders, share their plans for how to make their operation more efficient in Columbiana, Ohio, on May 1. CEO Michael Sherwin (l.), who says he's had two open positions for two years due to the difficulty in finding qualified, drug-free applicants, offered a bonus to the team with the best idea.

The problem is particularly striking in Youngstown, whose population has shrunk from 165,000 to about 65,000 since its flourishing steel mills shut down in the 1970s. Last summer it ranked as the most economically distressed small or mid-sized city in America – ahead of places like Flint, Mich., and Trenton, N.J. So employers are getting creative about how to do more with the employees they have – and where to look for new ones.

On a recent day at the Columbiana Boiler Company, half an hour south of Youngstown, close to a dozen career welders gathered around a glass conference room table armed with schematic drawings or dry erase markers. They are here in response to CEO Michael Sherwin’s challenge: Devise a way to reorganize the shop operations for maximum efficiency. The team with the best idea gets a cash bonus.

It’s not just an academic exercise. Mr. Sherwin, whose company pays $40,000 to $80,000 a year with benefits, says he basically hasn’t stopped looking for people for the past two years and still hasn’t been able to fill his open positions.

He’s also started looking for potential hires in unusual places – such as Flying High, the nonprofit that helps those emerging from substance abuse and/or prison get job training and reenter the workforce.

Mike Oates, a recent graduate of their welding program, gets up at 4:30 a.m. every day to put in 10-hour shifts at Columbiana Boiler, where he helps make massive kettles that hold liquid zinc for galvanizing large metal objects like cellphone towers and light poles.

“He’s been a great find,” says Sherwin. For the type of welding Mr. Oates does, “He’s probably No. 2 in the shop.”

For Oates, it’s a welcome opportunity to get his life back on track.

“Just because someone makes a mistake in their life doesn’t mean they’re a criminal,” says Oates, who hurt his back working in a steel mill in the 1990s, was prescribed opioid medication, and got addicted. He was convicted of felonious assault and spent two years in prison. There, he says he underwent a major transformation and emerged a passionate Christian determined to help others. “You can’t live in your past, because you’re never going to have a future.”

In many ways, the same could be said for Ohio.


4. Behind death penalty’s sharp global decline, a shift in attitudes?

Nowhere is diligence more required of justice systems than in the imposition of the death penalty. As societies carefully consider the stakes – and the effectiveness – of the punishment, more of them are backing away. 


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The stats tell a story: Over the past decade, an average of one country per year has repealed the death penalty, with Guinea and Mongolia doing away with it in 2017. That’s according to a report by Amnesty International that suggests a change in global attitudes toward the death penalty, a handful of execution strongholds notwithstanding. Amnesty recorded 993 executions in 23 countries in 2017, down 39 percent from 2015. (These figures do not include thousands of suspected executions in China, Belarus, and Vietnam, which are state secrets.) That downward trend includes the United States, which carried out 23 executions in 2017, down from 98 executions in 1999, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. There is a host of factors driving the decline, including concerns about human rights, discrimination, potential wrongful convictions, and its effectiveness as a deterrent. Some point to a deeper shift in attitudes. “We are in a period of national reconsideration of capital punishment,” says one political scientist who studies capital punishment. “The death penalty is not just on the decline but [its proponents are] on the defensive.”


Behind death penalty’s sharp global decline, a shift in attitudes?

When the United Nations was created in 1945, eight countries had abolished the death penalty. Today, it has been abolished by law in 106 countries – and 36 more in practice.

In fact, in the past decade, an average of one country each year has repealed the death penalty, with Guinea and Mongolia doing away with it in 2017. 

That’s according to a new report by Amnesty International that also suggests a change in global attitudes toward the death penalty, a handful of execution strongholds notwithstanding.

“When it comes to the death penalty, the progress the world has witnessed in the past decades is incredible,” says Chiara Sangiorgio, Amnesty’s adviser on the death penalty.

Amnesty recorded 993 executions in 23 countries in 2017, down 4 percent from 2016 and 39 percent from 2015. (These figures do not include thousands of suspected executions in China, Belarus, and Vietnam, which are state secrets.) 

The United States carried out 23 executions in 2017, down from 98 executions in 1999, according to the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC).

Driving this sharp decline is a host of factors including concerns about human rights, discrimination, potential wrongful convictions, and its effectiveness as a deterrent. Some observers say that underlying it is a shift in attitudes on capital punishment.

“We are in a period of national reconsideration of capital punishment,” says Austin Sarat, a professor of jurisprudence and political science at Amherst College in Amherst, Mass., and an expert on capital punishment. “The death penalty is not just on the decline but [its proponents are] on the defensive.”

On the global stage, there are tens of countries where capital punishment remains deeply entrenched, including China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Pakistan, the countries that execute the most people. 

In 2017, some 23 countries are known to have carried out executions, some in breach of international law, such as executing minors, people with mental disabilities, and those who “confessed” to crimes as a result of torture. 

Despite serious concerns, these countries appear to be outliers. “The overall trend is very clear; more than half the world’s nations have abolished the death penalty,” said Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s secretary-general, in a statement.

Numerous concerns underlie the growing opposition to the death penalty. “There is growing international consensus that the death penalty is a violation of human rights,” says Robert Dunham, executive director of DPIC in Washington, D.C.

In October 2017, Guatemala abolished the death penalty for most crimes after its constitutional court ruled that capital punishment violated principles in its convention on human rights. 

In some countries, the decline in executions coincides with a drop in popular support. Some 49 percent of Americans support the death penalty in the US, the lowest level in more than four decades, according to a Pew Research Center poll. Some 42 percent of Americans oppose it, the highest level since 1972. 

Concerns about discrimination are universal, as Amnesty’s report declared: “You are more likely to be sentenced to death if you are poor or belong to a racial, ethnic or religious minority because of discrimination in the justice system.”

In the US, multiple studies bear out such racial disparities. More than 75 percent of the murder victims in cases resulting in an execution were white, even though nationally only 50 percent of murder victims are white, according to DPIC.

Botched executions and exonerations also shake people’s confidence in capital punishment. DPIC figures show that since 1973, more than 160 people have been released from death row with evidence of their innocence. 

Finally, many question whether the death penalty is an effective deterrent.

Ultimately, say experts, such concerns reflect introspection. “How a society punishes is a test of that nation’s values and commitments, and I see more and more people in the US and elsewhere worry that the death penalty does damage to the things they prize and value,” says Professor Sarat.

Mr. Dunham agrees: “Despite significant strife throughout the world, most countries continue to move toward more humane punishment and more humane enforcement of criminal laws. When we talk about human progress, that’s a good thing.”

106 countries have abolished the death penalty for all crimes

Venezuela was the first country to outlaw capital punishment, in 1863. It wasn't until the late 20th century that the idea gained global traction.
SOURCE: Amnesty International
Jacob Turcotte/Staff


Ideas that drive change

5. Tireless historians: When the humanities meet big data

New readings of history often reveal previously hidden insights. By enlisting computers to analyze historical texts, historians are spotting patterns in language that were once invisible.


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How did four researchers read through 40,000 transcripts of speeches made during the early years of the French Revolution? They let a computer do it. A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences last month describes how specialists with backgrounds in informatics, European history, and astrophysics joined forces to develop a machine-learning program that quantifies the novelty and persistence of speech patterns. Their findings illustrate how new ways of thinking about governance emerged and spread at the dawn of our modern political era. The project is just one of many in an emerging field known as digital humanities, which brings scientists and humanists together to tackle questions in history, art, and literature from an entirely new perspective. “There’s no way that a single academic could have read all 10,000 bad pulpy novels published in the 19th century,” says Indiana University historian Rebecca Spang. “So you could ask different kinds of questions because you get different kinds of information.”


Tireless historians: When the humanities meet big data

Being a voracious reader is a prerequisite for academics in the humanities, but even the most dedicated bookworm needs to eat, sleep, and socialize.

Not so for computers, which are known for being tireless, thorough, and very fast. And, when asked the right kinds of questions, these electronic speed-readers can grasp patterns that would otherwise lie beyond the reach of human scholars.

That’s exactly what happened when a team of researchers used machine-learning techniques to plow through transcripts of 40,000 speeches in a parliamentary assembly during the first two years of the French Revolution, according to a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences last month. By quantifying the novelty of speech patterns and the extent to which those patterns were copied by subsequent speakers, the researchers illustrated how much of the important intellectual work of the revolution was initially carried out in committees, rather than in the whole assembly.

“We’re really getting a quantitative sense of large-scale patterns,” says co-author Simon DeDeo, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University and the Santa Fe Institute, a research center in New Mexico that specializes in complexity science. “There’s a lot of data here. You couldn’t have run this on a machine from 2000 or 2005.... Now you can do this on a desktop.”

Professor DeDeo received his doctorate from Princeton University in 2005 – not in European history, but in astrophysics. That was the tail of an inflationary period in DeDeo’s chosen field, and opportunities to tackle cosmology’s big questions were dwindling. “It was the end of the golden age,” he says. “I went off [and] I spent some time at the Santa Fe Institute, and that’s where I kind of converted into whatever I am now.”

The academy still hasn’t quite settled on a name for what DeDeo does, but the leading contender is “digital humanities,” a term that captures the field’s deeply interdisciplinary approach. Other digital humanities projects have brought together historians, librarians, literary critics, mathematicians, and computer scientists to analyze the complete works of ShakespeareTime magazine coversthe ancient graffiti of Pompeii, and one million pages of Japanese manga.

“One of the exciting things is, can the humanities and the sciences team up?” DeDeo asks. “There’s a huge amount of knowledge and wisdom that the humanists have that the scientists don’t.”

Digital humanities can be traced to beginnings that are as diverse as the disciplines of its practitioners. One influential figure was Roberto Busa, an Italian Jesuit priest who, beginning in the 1940s, began rendering the works of St. Thomas Aquinas into a machine-readable format. Another is Franco Moretti, a Marxist-trained Italian literary critic who argues that understanding literature comes not from a close reading of the literary canon  – literature’s equivalent to the one percent – but from a “distant reading” of the entire corpus.

Whether inspired by Thomistic completism, Marxist inclusivity, or something else entirely, digital humanities holds the potential to shift the way we look at history. “There’s no way that a single academic could have read all 10,000 bad pulpy novels published in the 19th century,” says Indiana University historian Rebecca Spang, a co-author on the French Revolution paper. “So you could ask different kinds of questions because you get different kinds of information.”

In the case of the French parliamentary assembly analysis, researchers found that, unlike Democrats and Republicans today, the bourgeoise and the aristocrats tended to use same language patterns. “There isn’t a sort of discursive spectrum that we can identify,” Professor Spang says, ”where you’ve got speakers on the right who use one vocabulary and the speakers on the left using another.”

Distant reading also results in a different understanding of the subject matter, one that is more holistic but also stands at a greater remove.

From the point of view of the computer, says Professor Spang, “it doesn’t matter what ‘ghijk’ means or says, just that it’s not ‘abcdef.’

“This kind of work is not going to give us a kind of emotionally or narratively satisfying historical explanation,” says David Andress, a historian at the University of Portsmouth in Britain and an expert on the French Revolution, “but it’s certainly going to show us things that we then have to explain, that that we then have to explore why we’ve got that result.”

This explanatory gap is why Dr. Andress doesn’t see digital humanities as a threat to traditional scholarship. “The readers of history and the general public are always going to want to have the story told to them in terms of people,” he says.

[Editor's note: An earlier version misstated the year DeDeo was awarded his doctorate.]


The Monitor's View

Argentina’s cry for help: How the world can respond

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Argentina, a country with abundant natural resources and a well-educated population, is in a financial crisis, caused in part by a strengthening US dollar. It has been forced to request foreign help. Unlike during a previous crisis under Peronist populists, however, President Mauricio Macri, a businessman-turned-politician, has created hope that Argentina can implement international best practices and move away from the cronyism and poor governance of his predecessors. The country’s new willingness to pursue regional and international leadership has been welcomed at a time when other Latin American countries are experiencing political and economic crises. Now the International Monetary Fund is wrestling with how to help: What conditions should be set and what signal should be sent to other countries? Argentina needs help now. If the international community can work constructively and rapidly with Argentina to forge solutions to its short-term problems, then that will encourage the country to stay on a path to fulfill more of its unrealized potential.


Argentina’s cry for help: How the world can respond

Since taking office in December 2015, Argentina’s President Mauricio Macri has undertaken significant economic and political reforms, which have won widespread praise at home and abroad. He has led Argentina to play a global leadership role, highlighted by its current presidency of the influential G20 forum. Now Mr. Macri and his government need support from international partners to help manage a run on Argentina’s currency and to continue on the reform path that many see as key to unlocking Argentina’s potential.

President Macri, a businessman turned politician, took bold steps early in his tenure, including resolving Argentina’s long outstanding dispute with foreign debt holders. However, he also adopted a gradualist approach to making structural economic changes, which many see as vital to getting Argentina back on a firm footing for growth after a long period of populist and state-dominated policies by his two predecessors. Macri’s choice of a gradualist approach was aimed at maintaining domestic support (he does not have a majority in Congress), while encouraging a massive cultural shift away from government subsidies and toward a more private sector-oriented economy. Up until recently, the people of Argentina seemed to accept slow growth, continued inflation (over 20 percent annually), and a reduction in subsidized prices for electricity, train tickets, and other public goods as part of a transition to a new Argentina. International markets also seemed to accept the government’s reliance on short-term borrowing.  It sold several billion dollars’ worth of 100-year bonds last year, for example. Until just weeks ago, economic growth was forecast to be 2 to 3 percent for the year ahead.

More recently, however, Macri’s gradualism and dependence on international markets to help finance this transition have run into rising interest rates in the United States. Investors began to worry that Argentina’s deficits are still too big and that its inflation remained stubborn. The government was forced to spend billions of dollars to try to defend the value of its peso. It also raised short-term interest rates for government bonds to 40 percent. Forecasters began talking about near-zero economic growth for the year ahead.

With markets spooked, Macri asked the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a “Stand-By Arrangement” that would offer Argentina access to additional money to help reassure markets while it adjusts to its short-term balance of payment problems. This was an audacious move. Many people in Argentina have very negative views of the IMF’s role in the painful economic crisis that swamped the country in the early 2000s that was brought on by a combination of poor financial and fiscal policies, over borrowing and external shocks.  

Macri and his team, however, hope that the IMF (as well as other international partners) will signal their confidence in Argentina’s reform path. In particular, investors apparently would like to see the IMF offer significant funds, which Argentina could draw upon as needed to reestablish market confidence.

Important questions remain. What will the IMF seek as conditions for such a program? Will its monetary package be sizable enough and quick enough to reassure markets? Will the people of Argentina accept an IMF program given their critical view of how the IMF treated the country in the past?

These are complex issues. But the stakes are big.

Argentina has long been known as a country of unrealized potential, given its abundant natural resources and a talented, well-educated population. Macri’s government has created hope that Argentina can implement international best practices and move away from the cronyism, poor governance, bad economic practices and populist policies of Macri’s predecessors. The Peronist opposition in Congress, however, is looking for opportunities to use this crisis to rally popular support against the government and its market-oriented approach.

Argentina’s willingness to pursue regional and international leadership has been widely welcomed, especially at a time when other Latin American countries are experiencing political and economic crises. By all accounts, for example, Argentina is seen as an able leader of the G20, a grouping of the world’s largest economies. What would be the international impact if the rest of the G20 were not to support the current chair as it works to manage this crisis and to continue its reforms?

The image of the IMF in the region is also in play. If the IMF quickly reaches agreement with Argentina on a substantial line of credit and conditions that reinforce reforms but don’t appear onerous, it will send a good signal to other reforming economies about the IMF’s role.

Finally, for the United States, Macri has worked hard to restore and expand cooperation on a range of issues far beyond debt, to cooperation against drug trafficking, terrorism, and illicit financial flows, for example, while encouraging US and other private sector investment and commerce. By supporting a friendly partner in the Western Hemisphere, the US can win good will beyond Argentina.

Argentina needs help now. If the international community can work constructively and rapidly with Argentina to forge solutions to its short-term problems, then that will encourage the country to stay on a path to fulfill more of its potential. 


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.

Countering hopelessness when violence looms

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Today’s contributor explains how prayer brought hope rather than fear when she heard about a potentially violent confrontation.


Countering hopelessness when violence looms

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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When emergency situations arise, whether in the news or close to home, it can be tempting to feel a sense of hopelessness or helplessness. How can we think more constructively about things when faced with a disturbing picture?

Recently, while sitting at a traffic light, my husband and I noticed a number of police cars across the street. Officers were standing next to their cars with weapons drawn. Then the back of a van opened up, and a heavily armed SWAT team emerged. The light turned green and we needed to move forward with the traffic, but by checking the news on my cell phone, I learned that an armed individual had threatened neighbors there and was now barricaded in an apartment.

It can certainly seem logical to react to such a situation with resignation and a feeling of helplessness or to dread that it could only end tragically. But based on my study of Christian Science, I felt I had a different option. In her writings, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy, urges those who practice Christian Science to assist in holding crime in check (see, for instance, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” pp. 96-97). That would include taking practical steps if we are in a position to do so. But this is also a call to respond to potentially difficult and dangerous situations through prayer, by acknowledging that God, good, is present – and seeing that such prayer can make a difference.

When thinking about the power of God to hold crime in check, I find encouragement in the Bible, particularly Christ Jesus’ teachings. For instance, there’s an account of Jesus once walking unharmed through an angry crowd that intended to throw him off a cliff (see Luke 4:28-30). He also peacefully stopped an angry mob of men intent on stoning a woman (see John 8:1-11). Jesus’ profound knowledge of his divine sonship and oneness with God equipped him to overcome these situations and prevent them from ending tragically.

What did Jesus know about the power and presence of God that made such a difference in these situations, and that we can turn to today when faced with emergencies? As we drove away from that apartment building, I responded by acknowledging what Jesus proved of God’s care for each of us, made in God’s spiritual image and likeness.

I’ve come to see that the power of prayer isn’t in a particular technique but in feeling and recognizing that God is present at every moment to enforce good. In this case, I considered God as divine Love (see I John 4:8), a tender, loving God who cherishes all His children. I’d felt many times before that God’s love is a tangible, practical, protecting presence, so I prayed for that love to be known, experienced, and expressed in this situation.

Another name I’ve learned for God is the one, all-powerful divine Mind. Because we are created by this one Mind, everyone has an inherent capacity to be receptive and obedient to divine inspiration that brings solutions. From this I reasoned that calm could prevail, with individuals responding appropriately in a way that prevented harm.

I continued praying along these lines as we drove to an activity that kept us out of cell service for four hours. Later we learned that the standoff had been resolved peacefully without harm to anyone. I was grateful for the efforts of the emergency personnel on site and for the many other people who may have been praying in support of a successful and harmonious resolution. And I was grateful to have a way to respond that was hopeful rather than fearful.

In the Christian Science textbook, Science and Health, it says that Jesus’ “humble prayers were deep and conscientious protests of Truth, – of man’s likeness to God and of man’s unity with Truth and Love” (p. 12). And he taught that unity with God, divine Truth and Love, is the true nature of all men and women of all races, whatever their religious convictions.

When faced with disturbing circumstances, we too can mentally and conscientiously protest, affirming everyone’s relation to God, who cares for all of us. This kind of prayer helps counter an atmosphere of fear, hate, and hopelessness with love. And we can trust that in this way God’s love will be felt, benefiting not only ourselves, but also all those whom our prayers rest on.



And still they come

Philippe Wojazer/Reuters
Migrants’ tents are lined up along the Quai de Valmy of the trendy Canal Saint-Martin neighborhood in Paris. Aid groups warned of the drowning danger to migrants after two young men were recovered from the canal this month, according to Reuters. 'France, which has received far fewer asylum-seekers over the past years than neighboring Germany, has nevertheless been struggling with tackling new arrivals,' said the report.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by , Karen Norris and Jacob Turcotte. )

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( May 17th, 2018 )

Thanks for joining us today. Tomorrow, the Monitor's Peter Grier will help us sort through everything that's happened since special counsel Robert Mueller was appointed one year ago to investigate possible Russian meddling in the 2016 election. 

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