shadow
binoculars
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
June
12
Tuesday
David Clark Scott
Editor & product manager

The big news of the day is a historic handshake in Singapore. More on that in a moment. But let’s pause to recognize what happened on a smaller stage, a baseball diamond in Minnesota.

High school pitcher Ty Koehn is one pitch away from taking his Mounds View team to the state championships. He delivers a sizzling fastball. Steee-rike, the umpire signals. Game over. The crowd erupts and Ty’s teammates rush onto the field.

But Ty doesn’t join the victory scrum. Instead, he jogs to home plate, sidestepping the embrace of his own catcher, and gives a long hug to the dejected rival batter.

The batter, Jack Kocon, is a childhood friend. They’d played on the same Little League team a few years back. “Our friendship is more important than just the silly outcome of a game,” Ty told Bring Me The News.  “I had to make sure he knew that before we celebrated.”

No one would have criticized him – or even noticed – if Ty had joined his team’s celebration dance. But he chose empathy and friendship first.

In an age of political tribalism, fraying alliances, and “my team over yours,” a high school baseball player offers us another approach to winning.

~

Now on to our five selected stories, including an empathetic look at China’s own migrants, the Trump administration’s perspective on global trade deals, and making the US safer by educating inmates.  

1. Hermit Kingdom no more? The message of a summit light on details

A handshake and hope: The North Korea-US presidential summit offered another bold example of unilateral, transactional diplomacy. It remains to be seen whether Donald Trump’s generosity will be reciprocated.

David
Evan Vucci/AP
President Trump walks with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on Sentosa Island, Singapore, June 12.

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 6 Min. )

The improbable summit in Singapore served as a reminder of how abruptly and drastically the world can change. What had been dubbed a denuclearization summit was actually light on the specifics, beyond its quid pro quo joint statement twinning North Korea’s commitment to denuclearize with US security commitments for Kim. Within hours of the summit’s close, many nuclear policy analysts were bemoaning the lack of details and timelines. But that does not mean the summit was any less of a watershed moment. First, North Korea is the hermit kingdom no more, and it is heretofore a de facto nuclear power – a status Pyongyang has craved for years but which is only now gaining international recognition. Perhaps most momentous for the Korean Peninsula and Asia, the summit suggests an acceleration of the sunset of American power and postwar alliances in Asia. “The president has put in the water the scent of American withdrawal,” says Mike Green, senior director for Asia on President George W. Bush’s National Security Council. Some analysts, however, do see a ray of hope in President Trump’s announcement of a process of high-level negotiations – and that process could be put to the test quite soon.

Collapse

1. Hermit Kingdom no more? The message of a summit light on details

It was a moment virtually unimaginable just a few weeks ago – and perhaps best described by Kim Jong-un, the leader of a pariah state that not so long ago the United States branded as “evil.”

As the North Korean leader shook hands with President Trump in front of a backdrop of alternating American and North Korean flags, Mr. Kim noted that many viewers around the world would think it was a scene from a “science fiction movie.”

And like any good science fiction movie, the improbable summit in Singapore Tuesday served as a reminder of how abruptly and drastically the world can change.

“The world will see a major change,” Kim said as he signed the summit’s joint statement. Added Mr. Trump, “I think our whole relationship with North Korea and the Korean Peninsula is going to be a very much different situation than it has in the past.”

What had been dubbed a denuclearization summit was actually very light on the specifics, beyond its quid-pro-quo joint statement twinning North Korea’s commitment to denuclearize with US security commitments for Kim. Within hours of the summit’s close, many nuclear policy analysts were bemoaning the lack of details and timelines – and concluding that so far the Singapore agreement didn’t look much different from past “denuclearization” accords struck between the two longtime adversaries.

But that does not mean the summit was any less of the watershed moment the two leaders proclaimed – and avidly portrayed. 

Indeed the leafy confines of a Singapore resort hotel are likely to be remembered as the venue where a number of genies were let out of the bottle – most likely never to be stuffed back in.

Those unbottled genies range from a pariah state assuming VIP status on the world stage, to the American retreat from its perch as an Asian power.

'Coming-out party'

First, North Korea is the hermit kingdom no more – as so dramatically illustrated by Kim’s willingness to make a first-ever official trip in international airspace. Having received the legitimacy of an American president’s handshake and the public exposure afforded rock stars (complete with selfies), Kim is unlikely to ever again face such international isolation.

A relieved China is already loosening up on implementation of the Trump-authored United Nations sanctions that helped nudge Kim to make a new “denuclearization” deal. A Kim-Putin summit is thought to be next – not to mention Trump’s pledge of a Kim White House visit “at the appropriate time.”

A place on the UN dais in September could be next up for Kim –  perhaps followed by a side trip to Washington.

Second, North Korea is heretofore a de facto nuclear power – a status Pyongyang has claimed (now enshrined in its constitution) and craved for years, but which is only now gaining international recognition.

By acknowledging that denuclearizing North Korea would be a long and complicated process, the US is inadvertently recognizing that the North's nuclear arsenal and programs are sizable, diversified, and complex – and encompass all the dimensions of a nuclear power.

The Singapore summit was “a big coming-out party for North Korea as the latest nuclear-weapons state,” says Sue Mi Terry, a senior fellow in Korean and Asian affairs at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington. “We may not accept it formally, but we just threw a big event for Kim Jong-un [that suggests] the world is already recognizing North Korea” as a nuclear power.

Any project for North Korea’s denuclearization remains purely “aspirational” in the summit’s wake, as Dr. Terry notes – which means the world will have to deal with North Korea as a nuclear power for at least years to come.

“It does take a long time to pull off complete denuclearization. It takes a long time,” Trump told reporters.

Allies' alarm

Third – and perhaps most momentous for the Korean Peninsula and Asia more broadly – aspects of the Singapore summit suggest an acceleration of the sunset of American power and postwar alliance maintenance in Asia.

In his remarks following the formal summit, Trump apparently caught allies South Korea and Japan off guard by declaring that the US will end “war games” with South Korea, a reference to their regular joint military exercises.

Trump called the exercises “very provocative” and “inappropriate” in light of the new entente between Washington and Pyongyang, while at the same time raising the prospect of drawing down US forces stationed in South Korea and the region.

But many longtime Asia analysts see the development very differently.

“The president has put in the water the scent of American withdrawal,” says Mike Green, who served as senior director for Asia on President George W. Bush’s National Security Council and is now senior vice-president for Asia at CSIS.

Highlighting Trump’s dual message of troop withdrawals and cancelled joint military exercises as a stark departure from the traditional US role in Asia since World War II, Dr. Green described the summit as “seeing our alliances unravel” before our eyes. “It’s pretty stunning.”

Talk of ending joint military exercises was also jarring to many in South Korea, which received no advance warning of the American president’s plans.

“It sends very bad reverberations to American allies,” says Bong Young-shik, a research fellow at the Institute for North Korean Studies at Yonsei University in Seoul.

Kim Jong-un “succeeded in framing [the joint military exercises] in transactional terms, which Donald Trump cares most about,” Mr. Bong says. “The US saves money and at the same time it gives security insurance to North Korea,” he adds, but “security partnerships can’t be reduced to transactions or calculations of money.”

The Trump-Kim summit may raise new doubts for US allies – indeed Green says the shockwaves will reverberate beyond Northeast Asia to Australia and on to European allies – but China will hear the summit’s tune as sweet strains, analysts say.

Beijing has long angled for an end to US military exercises in its backyard and for a drawdown of US troops on the Korean Peninsula. In addition, China is going to see the summit as a green light to increasingly disregard the sanctions on trade with North Korea that the US pushed through the UN Security Council. On Tuesday, Beijing suggested that sanctions be adjusted or lightened if Pyongyang complies with UN resolutions.

“What we’re going to see is a loosening of the imposition of sanctions … particularly from China and Russia” says Terry, adding that once sanctions are disregarded it’s difficult to re-impose them – another unbottled genie.

Put to the test

On the denuclearization front, experts who were largely unimpressed with the summit say they do see a ray of hope in Trump’s announcement that a “process” of high-level negotiations, led on the US side by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, will get under way shortly.

“The handshake between Trump and Kim was historic, but the summit outcome is mediocre at best,” says Kelsey Davenport, the director for nonproliferation policy at the Arms Control Association in Washington. “The true test of success is whether the follow-on negotiations can close the gap between the United States and North Korea on the definition of denuclearization and lay out specific, verifiable steps that Pyongyang will take to reduce the threat posed by its nuclear weapons.”

For some analysts, that test will come quite soon – as the Pentagon decides whether North Korea is taking the steps that warrant cancelling or significantly reducing the late summer US-South Korea joint military exercises, and as the world moves into diplomatic high gear with the UN General Assembly meeting in September.

So far the Singapore summit has merely “served as a Band-aid” on the North Korean nuclear crisis, says Victor Cha, a seasoned US Asia diplomat now at CSIS. “By the time we get to August-September, we will see if there’s any there there.” 

shadow

2. Is world using US as a 'piggy bank'? Unpacking a Trump comment.

Coming out of the Group of Seven summit, the rift between the United States and key trade partners seemed to deepen amid unusually harsh rhetoric. We look at what lies behind the perspective that the US has been shortchanged by global trade deals.

David

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 5 Min. )

Trade has boosted living standards worldwide, buoying both nations with trade deficits, like the United States, as well as those with surpluses, like China. Countries create jobs when they can boost exports, and their companies and consumers benefit when they import goods at lower cost than can be obtained domestically. So why does President Trump insist that US trade partners are “robbing” the US like a “piggy bank”? Economists say it stems from an inaccurate zero-sum view of trade, in which exports mean winning and imports mean losing. But the angst runs deeper for the president. While trade may boost an economy overall, it has hurt US workers who haven’t been able to compete with lower-cost labor. Their losses have been compounded by nations that, despite the trade rules, have managed to undercut US goods using export subsidies and import barriers. A parallel worry for Mr. Trump is that other nations are not paying their fair share for military security. But if there are legitimate concerns for Trump to raise, economist Michael Klein says, the larger reality is that “international trade is positive.”

Collapse

Is world using US as a 'piggy bank'? Unpacking a Trump comment.

Amid a flurry of stern and sometimes vitriolic rhetoric after a weekend summit of large democracies, one comment by President Trump stood out as a pointed rebuke of America’s longtime trading partners.

“We're like the piggy bank that everybody is robbing,” Mr. Trump said. “And that ends.”

His words only seemed to stiffen the determination of longtime allies to resist his call for dramatic concessions.

Big European economies, plus Canada and Japan, all were rolling out retaliatory responses to Trump’s imposition of steep tariffs on steel and aluminum, amid allegations that they’re helping to fuel a global metals glut. And the use of a national-security rationale for those tariffs was deemed “kind of insulting” by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

So what does Trump’s piggy bank assertion mean? He didn’t spell out the details, and his phrasing left plenty of economists scratching their heads. For one thing, they say the United States has largely benefited alongside other nations from growing global trade. For another, they note that America’s trade deficit means that it’s a net borrower, not a lender or “banker,” to the rest of the world.

Behind the comment, though, is Trump’s long-espoused worry about that trade deficit, his view that America is being systematically disadvantaged in its trade dealings with other nations. Trade experts agree that there are pockets of unfairness to be addressed, but many add that this outlook is inherently flawed to the extent that it views trade as a “zero-sum game” where there’s a loser for every winner.

“This all goes back to Trump's view … that trade is a game of winners and losers, and the winners are people that export and the losers are people that import, which is very different from the economists’ view of trade,” says Ed Dolan, an economist and senior fellow at the Niskanen Center, a free-market oriented think tank based in Washington.

That may somewhat oversimplify Trump’s views, but the president has repeatedly talked up the goal of reducing the US trade deficit, and of potentially slapping tariffs on trading partners toward that end.

Reality vs. rhetoric

The reality, economists say, is that growing trade has boosted living standards worldwide, buoying nations with both trade deficits (imports outweighing exports) and surpluses. Exports can be a source of good jobs, as nations specialize in sectors where they can cultivate an advantage. But imports are at least as important – cutting consumer prices, expanding consumer choices, and supplying manufacturers with materials and components.

“International trade is positive sum,” says Michael Klein, an economist at the Fletcher School at Tufts University and founder of EconoFact, a website that aims to provide reliable background on issues including trade. “This is going back to David Ricardo and Adam Smith – that voluntary exchange is a good thing.”

The big caveat – the gaping hole that Trump essentially drove a truck through with his election win – is that the rules of the game aren’t always applied fairly, and even at best there are losers as well as winners. When US communities lose big factories to global competition, the fact that goods have gotten a little cheaper doesn’t offset the blow to employment.

Trump is far from alone in thinking that, often, US workers have faced adverse effects as other nations have sought their own advantage through subsidies for exports or barriers to imports. In Trump’s view, the problem also includes US leaders who have done a poor job negotiating of trade deals, often with corporate lobbyists as leading influencers.

“The United States leaders of the past didn’t do a good job on trade,” he said just before his “piggy bank” line during a press conference in Charlevoix, Quebec, Saturday. “I'm not blaming countries; I'm blaming our people that represented our past.”

Military concerns

The piggy bank metaphor is rooted in the notion that unfair export-promotion practices by G7 trading partners are a kind of tax on the US economy, but it also may relate to another criticism Trump and others have levied: that there’s also a pattern of uneven burden-sharing for military security.

“Those [trade] deficits along with our allies’ reluctance to spend and in some cases to take risks on behalf of their own security places an enormous tax on the American people-in lost growth and jobs, what the United States must spend on defense and the casualties American soldiers must bear,” University of Maryland economist Peter Morici wrote in an email commentary Tuesday.

The meeting was widely portrayed in the news media as a breakdown of relations among nations that, led by the US, had long served as the leading global champions of free trade.

Trump is clearly hoping that get-tough brinkmanship will ultimately yield agreements by trade partners to reduce their barriers and import more from the US.

“[And] there is a personal element to the trade discussions,” in which it’s possible that if Trump feels he’s won a victory with his North Korea summit this week, he’ll be more willing to seek a peaceful endgame to his trade discussions with G7 allies, says Gregory Daco, chief US economist at Oxford Economics.

Perils of go-it-alone

But a risk is the US becomes marginalized as other nations resist his tactics and forge ahead with trade deals that leave the US out. By alienating longtime allies, Trump may be empowering China in its bid to rival the US in technological leadership and global influence.

On Sunday, Chinese President Xi Jinping told a gathering of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a regional security bloc, that his nation stood for more open trade and against “selfish, shortsighted” policies.

Trump’s gambit could pay off if trading partners like China and Europe ultimately reduce barriers. But a cycle of retaliation and countermoves could do the opposite, slowing global growth.

“You [could] end up with a global recession,” if tariffs become widespread, says Mr. Daco in New York. He estimates an exit from NAFTA, coupled with a US-China trade war with roughly 25 percent tariffs added to goods flowing both ways, could slow US growth severely – by about 0.7 percentage points.

Atop the steel tariffs and possible tariffs on Chinese goods more widely, Trump is threatening to cite a national security rationale to impose new tariffs protecting carmakers in the US. Were such tariffs imposed, “I think everyone would be quick to realize that the negative effect on the economy is quite significant and rapid,” Daco says.

Trade math

In fact, while the “piggy bank” quote emphasizes Trump’s urge to seek redress for alleged unfairness, many economists say Trump’s approach risks doing more harm than good.

Mr. Klein at Tufts notes that the math of trade deficits can be deceptive. An iPhone arriving in the US may look like a $225 export from China, but most of that value was actually created first in other nations including the US, he says.

And helping US workers will ultimately hinge on many factors that go well beyond the rules of trade, experts say, from education and infrastructure to keeping the nation’s debt under control. These issues actually do loop back to the trade deficit, they add. That’s because if the US saved more and ran smaller government deficits, the trade deficit would fall, as a matter of economic accounting.

But another driver of trade deficits, the dollar’s strength as a sought-after “reserve currency,” may be hard to change. “Countries with strong currencies,” Mr. Dolan says, simply “tend to have trade deficits.”

What that means for the US, he adds, is that other nations are helping to finance America’s public debt while, thanks to lower-cost imports, Americans’ “standard of living is better.”

SOURCE: World Bank
|
Karen Norris/Staff
shadow

3. A taciturn tactician, McConnell draws respect – and ire

Republicans and Democrats agree that Sen. Mitch McConnell’s record-setting tenure as GOP leader was shaped partly by a hyperpartisan environment in Congress. They diverge over how much he has contributed to that atmosphere.

David

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 7 Min. )

One of Sen. Mitch McConnell’s most important daily tasks is to count his own members. With only 51 in a 100-member body – and with a strategy that depends heavily on Republican unity – even one defection or absence can upset the apple cart. As he today officially becomes the longest-serving Senate GOP leader, Republicans and Democrats agree that the unflappable Kentuckian has been an effective party strategist. He has moved his party’s agenda forward in a polarized political environment, despite occasional jabs from an unpredictable and tweeting president. “He has the complete support of the conference,” says Sen. John Boozman (R) of Arkansas, who lauds Senator McConnell for a “very, very good job” navigating turbulent waters. There is less agreement over whether McConnell’s leadership has also been good for the Senate – and, by extension, the country. Senate leaders are supposed to work with all senators and presidents of either party and create “a climate of trust, mutual respect, and bipartisanship,” says Ira Shapiro, a former senior Senate staffer and trade negotiator for President Bill Clinton. “In that regard, he’s failed on every account.”

Collapse

A taciturn tactician, McConnell draws respect – and ire

In January, when former Senate majority leader Bob Dole of Kansas was honored with the Congressional Gold Medal, his fellow Republican, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, offered a tribute.

Senator Dole showed that “principles and pragmatism are not opposites, but complements,” said Senator McConnell. He praised the son of the Dust Bowl and Depression for breaking a stalemate to save Social Security, and for “reaching across the aisle” to help pass landmark legislation like the Americans with Disabilities Act. As leader of the Republican majority in the 1980s and ’90s, Dole could often be found in the Democratic cloak room, seated in an overstuffed chair, working out deals with the opposition.

In many ways, the contrast between the two men is striking.

As he officially surpasses Dole as the longest-serving leader of the Senate GOP, at 11 years, five months, and ten days, one of McConnell’s most important daily tasks is to count his own members. With only 51 in a 100-member body – and with a strategy that depends heavily on Republican unity – even one defection or absence can upset the apple cart.

Dole, although an adept partisan, was known as a bridge-builder with Democrats. McConnell became famous for blocking them. Since Republicans gained complete control in Washington with the election of President Trump, McConnell has moved like a steamroller, taking advantage of Senate rules – and changing a key one – to push through tax cuts, roll back regulations, and fill a Supreme Court vacancy through votes that required only a simple majority to pass.

The difference speaks in part to a shift in the makeup of the parties. Dole’s leadership came toward the end of an era when the parties were themselves ideologically divided, making the middle a natural place to do business. Today, both parties are more homogeneous – and members are often more concerned with fending off primary challenges than appealing to the center.

“Senator McConnell has operated in a much more polarized atmosphere,” observes former Senate historian Don Ritchie. “Pretty much everyone in his conference is to the right, some to the far right, and pretty much everyone in the Democratic conference is to the left or far left.” 

Republicans and Democrats agree that the unflappable Kentuckian has been an effective party leader, with a strategic mind that views legislating like a game of three-dimensional chess. He has moved his party’s agenda forward despite occasional jabs from an unpredictable and tweeting president – the stylistic opposite of the steady McConnell, who guards every word he utters.

“He has the complete support of the conference,” says Sen. John Boozman (R) of Arkansas, who lauds McConnell for a “very, very good job” navigating turbulent waters. 

There is less agreement over whether McConnell’s leadership has also been good for the Senate – and, by extension, the country.

“Senator McConnell has been an extremely effective and powerful Republican leader, but he has not been a Senate leader,” says Ira Shapiro, author of the new book “Broken: Can the Senate Save Itself and the Country?”

Senate leaders are supposed to work with all senators and presidents of either party and create “a climate of trust, mutual respect, and bipartisanship, and in that regard, he’s failed on every account,” says Mr. Shapiro, a former senior Senate staffer and trade negotiator for President Bill Clinton.

Shapiro argues against the view that McConnell simply reflects today’s hyperpartisan times. He says the GOP leader played a big role in shaping the current environment on Capitol Hill by “routinely” bypassing opportunities to work with Democrats.

The most striking example of purely partisan obstruction, he says, was McConnell’s effort, as minority leader, to line up Republicans against President Barack Obama’s economic stimulus of 2009. Yet months earlier, under GOP President George W. Bush, McConnell had worked hard to pass legislation shoring up the financial industry.

“He understood the stakes,” says Shapiro, calling the about-face “shameful.” Were it not for three Republicans who broke ranks and voted with the Democrats, “we might still be in a depression.”

Patience and determination

McConnell rose to the leadership and brought Republicans back to the majority through patience and determination – qualities he learned as a very young child overcoming polio. In his memoir, “The Long Game,” he describes his mother exercising his leg – but not allowing him to walk, per nurses’ orders – for two long years.

After more than 30 years in the Senate, he knows its rules inside and out. That, along with an ability to keep his sometimes-unruly ranks in line, has helped him push through the GOP agenda. Indeed, McConnell has been elected leader six times by Republicans without anyone ever running against him.

“I think what McConnell does better than anyone, and it’s one of the secrets to his longevity, is pretty quickly diagnosing the political reality, and charting a path that can unite his membership behind a plan to improve their lot,” says Josh Holmes, McConnell’s former chief of staff and campaign manager.

When Republicans won back the Senate in 2014, McConnell initially moved to restore the chamber to its more deliberative days. He opened up the floor to amendments and free-wheeling debate and returned legislating to the committees, where senators can still work across the aisle. A brief period of significant bipartisan legislating followed, on issues from education to highways to trade. He won kudos from members of both parties.

“Mitch is a straight shooter,” says Sen. Chris Murphy (D) of Connecticut. At odds with McConnell over guns and other issues, Senator Murphy says that when he has had bipartisan bills he wanted to get to the floor, the majority leader has been candid about what steps he needed to take. “When I did the things he told me to do, he found a way to get the bill on the floor, or include it in something else.” He names a mental health measure as an example.

The Supreme Court bombshell

But then came a bombshell. Over President’s Day weekend in February 2016, the nation learned that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia had suddenly died. Without consulting anyone else in his caucus, McConnell announced that the Senate would not confirm a replacement until after a new president had been elected. When then-President Obama put forward Judge Merrick Garland as a consensus nominee, Republicans denied him a hearing.

For many Democrats, the Garland blockade stands out among actions by McConnell that have done “enormous damage to the Senate as an institution,” says Jim Manley, former spokesman for the now retired Democratic majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada. “He made up a rule to prevent a Democratic president from even having a hearing on a Supreme Court nominee…. It’s something that Democrats are never going to forget.”

McConnell and his supporters don’t see it that way. They point to his pragmatism in crisis, negotiating with then-Vice President Joe Biden to bring the country back from the “fiscal cliff” of tax hikes and spending cuts in 2012, for instance. “He wasn’t an avid obstructionist when it comes to things like personnel,” as today’s Democrats have been with Mr. Trump’s nominees, says Mr. Holmes.

As for opposing Obama agenda items such as the Affordable Care Act and economic stimulus, McConnell simply saw them as too liberal and too much government for a center-right nation. Opposition here was “essential,” says Holmes, not only to block bad policy, but to unite the Republican minority, clearly delineate its values, and begin charting a path back to the majority. As McConnell is so fond of saying, “you can’t make policy if you don’t win the election.”

McConnell supporters also argue that he was simply responding to earlier obstruction by Senator Reid – who had clamped down on floor amendments and, in 2013, unilaterally changed the Senate rules to no longer require a 60-vote threshold for nominees other than to the Supreme Court, the so-called nuclear option.

Republican senators are pleased with their party’s accomplishments of the past year. But even some of them are grumbling about a noticeable decline in Senate debate and votes on amendments – which are an opportunity to get ideas out on the floor, and for senators to show their constituents that they are on the job.

“I was sent up here to debate and decide. I was not sent up here to delay and stultify,” Sen. John Kennedy (R) of Louisiana told a handful of reporters as senators were heading for home last week. “I would just put everything on the floor and let everybody offer whatever amendments they want to, and… let’s vote!”

Another Republican, who did not want to be named, complains that the Senate is ceding too much power to the president. Immigration and trade are two recent examples. “Too often we simply say we won’t pass anything that doesn’t have the president’s support,” the senator says. “Sometimes the only way you get the president’s support is to pass something.”

McConnell now is on a mission to clear spending bills and get the president’s nominees confirmed, particularly in the judiciary. Despite Democrats slowing down the process, the Senate has confirmed a record number of federal judges under Trump, as compared to any other president at this stage in his tenure.

The man who spent his entire life working to get this job does not plan to give it up any time soon. And as long as he holds it, says Holmes, he’ll continue to focus like a laser on areas where he can have the greatest impact – such as the judiciary – and “spend zero time wringing his hands about things he can’t control.”

When your party controls both Congress and the White House, “your goal is not to wind through an endless debate of ideas. Your goal is to try to enact what you can get the most people to agree on – and move on.”

shadow

4. Brought in to build modern Beijing, migrants now face exile. A family’s story.

A hardworking migrant who moves from rural China to Beijing is treated almost like an undocumented Mexican in the United States. Our reporter shares one family’s journey to new opportunities in China’s capital, their expulsion, and their quest to find home again in the countryside.

David
Xie Yujuan/The Christian Science Monitor
Wang Tianle plays with a basketball he found in the wreckage of Zhiquan School. Tianle attended the school until it was leveled by Beijing authorities, who want to rid the city of migrant neighborhoods.

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 13 Min. )

One morning in mid-March, Peng Jie visited the site of her son’s old school in northern Beijing. The school had been demolished, reduced to a pile of rubble by government officials. When she saw it, Ms. Peng was overcome with a deep sense of loss. She had been a teacher there for 13 years. It was her first job in Beijing, the reason she left her rural home and moved to the city. “This place was our home,” she says. Over the past three years, officials have embarked on an aggressive campaign to limit migrants’ numbers. Last year alone, Beijing demolished more than 23 square miles of illegal structures, an area about the size of Manhattan. Bulldozers razed everything from fruit stalls to six-story apartment buildings to schools, most owned or occupied by migrants. The goal: to cap the city’s population at 23 million by 2020 and transform Beijing into a gleaming, orderly capital city – one largely stripped of the migrants, like Peng, who helped build it. 

Collapse

Brought in to build modern Beijing, migrants now face exile. A family’s story.

One morning in mid-March, Wang Tianle and his mother visited the site of his old school in northern Beijing. The school had been demolished last August, reduced to a pile of rubble that had yet to be hauled away.

Tianle ran toward the heap of crumbled bricks with the irrepressible excitement of an archaeologist who has just discovered an ancient city. The ruins of his former classroom might as well have been Petra, the cafeteria Pompeii, the principal’s office Persepolis. Whatever treasure he dug out was his for the taking. Two stray dogs were his only competition. 

“Be careful!” his mother yelled, but Tianle didn’t respond. By then he was already excavating, too immersed to notice when she began to cry.

Tianle’s mother, Peng Jie, hadn’t expected to become so emotional at the sight of the school. She thought she was over the government’s decision to tear it down. After all, she told herself, it had been seven months since its demolition. 

But as her memories flooded back, Ms. Peng was overcome with a deep sense of loss. She had been a teacher there for 13 years. It was her first job in Beijing, the reason she had moved to the city from the countryside of Henan province. 

“I taught in almost every one of these classrooms,” she said, as she surveyed the wreckage through tears. She turned around and pointed to another pile of rubble about 400 feet away. “Our house was right over there,” she said. “This place was our home.” 

Xie Yujuan/The Christian Science Monitor
Peng Jie and her son, Wang Tianle, walk home from the school he attended in a rural town near Guandimiao, China. The family sent Tianle back to live with his grandparents and go to school in the countryside after their home in Beijing was knocked down.

A short time later, Tianle returned with three long-lost artifacts he had unearthed: a stuffed snake, a green hula hoop, and a wicker basket.

“What I miss most is seeing the children on the playground after class,” Peng said. The children were gone now, too. Many had moved away with their families – not just from the school, but from Beijing altogether. 

Peng, along with her son and husband, would soon do the same. Their life in Beijing had never been easy, but it had become much harder in recent years. Things started to change in 2015, when the municipal government announced plans to cap the city’s population at 23 million by 2020. At the time, the population was 21.5 million and rising. It soon became clear that the government wanted rural migrants to go. 

Although migrants have been important contributors to the city’s economic growth, they have also placed a considerable burden on its infrastructure and public services. Over the past three years, officials have embarked on an aggressive campaign to limit their numbers. The goal is to transform Beijing into a gleaming, orderly capital befitting China’s rise.

Last year alone, Beijing demolished more than 23 square miles of illegal structures, an area about the size of Manhattan, according to government statistics. Most of the structures were owned or occupied by migrants, and many were built illegally and haphazardly. Authorities targeted everything from individual fruit stalls, to steel shipping containers that migrants had turned into makeshift homes, to entire neighborhoods of six-story apartment buildings. The bulldozers razed dozens of migrant schools, too.

Thomas Peter/Reuters
Debris covers the ground where former migrant dwellings used to stand on the outskirts of Beijing. In the past three years, authorities in China’s capital city have embarked on an aggressive campaign to demolish illegal dwellings and limit the number of migrants because of their burden on public services. The goal is to transform Beijing into a gleaming city befitting China’s rise.

The campaign picked up in November after an apartment fire killed 19 people, all but two of them migrants. By the end of the year, Beijing had 22,000 fewer people – no small feat considering that the city had grown by an average of 640,000 people annually between 1990 and 2016. And the wrecking crews aren’t done; in fact, they’re scheduled to demolish 15 square miles of illegal structures this year.

Kam Wing Chan, a professor at the University of Washington in Seattle who studies Chinese migration, warns that the negative consequences of the eviction campaign could be severe. He points out that Beijing still needs migrant workers to fill the low-paying jobs that keep the city running. If the workers disappear, the logic goes, the prices of everything from a bowl of noodles to housekeeping will rise. Professor Chan says Beijing simply doesn’t have a large enough working-age population to sustain itself. 

Urban industries like construction and sanitation are almost completely staffed by migrants. Then there’s the burgeoning e-commerce sector. Fewer migrants means fewer drivers for delivery and ride-hailing services. That’s bad news for the growing number of middle-class residents who have come to rely on them. 

But it’s the migrants themselves who have suffered the biggest disruptions – and have the most to lose.

***

Peng was born in a remote, hilltop village called Guandimiao in 1984. Located in the southeast corner of Henan, Guandimiao consists of about 30 red-brick houses surrounded by terraced rice fields, patches of bamboo, and scattered vegetable gardens and tea plants. The nearest bus station is 12 miles away; the nearest train station, 107 miles. Before Peng went to college, the farthest she had ever traveled from home was the local middle school. It was six miles up the road. 

Peng’s father says she was an introverted child and an average student who rarely acted up. “She wasn’t rebellious,” he says, with a hint of pride.

Peng enjoyed playing outside and spent almost every Sunday morning herding the family’s goats with her younger brother. In the spring, when bright-red azaleas were in bloom, she would pick flowers on her walk home from school and place them in vases around the house. The scent helped cover the smell of pigs that wafted from a nearby pen. 

“You could find azaleas everywhere back then,” Peng says, explaining that in recent years opportunistic outsiders had discovered that they could make a quick buck by harvesting the flowers in bulk and selling them in faraway cities. “It used to be really special.” 

In 2001, Peng enrolled in a three-year vocational college in Gushi, a small town 30 miles north of Guandimiao. She had decided to follow in her father’s footsteps and become a teacher. 

“My father was very strict,” she says. “I never thought about doing anything else.”

Peng’s initial plan was to return to Guandimiao after she graduated and teach at a local primary school. But that was before she met Wang Long in the fall of 2003. Mr. Wang was a physical education student with a slender build, tanned skin, and a brash personality. After being introduced to Peng by mutual friends, Wang fell for her long hair and gentle demeanor.

“She was more mature than the other girls,” he says.

Peng never thought about moving to Beijing until Wang decided to do a teaching residency at a migrant school in the city during their last semester of college. The school was named Zhiquan School – “spring of wisdom,” in Chinese. Wang had a cousin who worked there, and he knew that the principal, Qin Jijie, was a well-respected teacher from Gushi.

Wang started work in March. A month later, Mr. Qin offered him a full-time job and said he also had one available for Peng. Wang called her to tell her the news. Peng wanted to be with him, but she struggled because her father disapproved of their relationship. Wang’s family was poor, even by the standards of rural China, and Peng’s father worried that Wang didn’t have the means to support his only daughter. He also thought Beijing was a dangerous city.

“My daughter was very young at the time,” he says. “I didn’t want her to live far away.”

In the end, nothing Peng’s father said was enough to stop her from following Wang to Beijing. She moved there in July 2004 with a single suitcase and about 1,000 yuan ($120). Seven months later, during Chinese New Year, she and Wang got married.

“That was my biggest act of rebellion against my father,” Peng says, “and also the most hurtful.” 

***

By the time Peng arrived in Beijing, China’s new market economy had led to an explosion of activity in the city. New factories were popping up everywhere, and migrant workers provided the cheap labor needed to fill them – to say nothing of their work building the expressways, subway lines, and train stations that made it possible for Beijing to expand so rapidly. Cities across China were undergoing a similar transformation. Over the past three decades, 280 million rural migrants have flocked to metropolises like Shanghai and Shenzhen in search of work. Demographers have called it the largest migration in human history, and it’s far from over. The Chinese government estimates that at least 3 million rural migrants will seek jobs in cities in 2018. It’s just that Beijing – which is currently home to more than 8 million migrants – is now pushing back. 

In the mid-2000s, Beijing had fewer than half the number of migrants it has now. Many came alone and lived in crowded slums on the outskirts of the city. They came to make money, not new homes. The community that formed around Zhiquan School was different, as was the neighborhood of crammed, single-story houses in which it stood: Dongsanqi Village. 

“Everyone there was like family,” says Shen Shuwei, a math teacher from Hebei province who taught at the school for seven years. “I felt like I belonged.”

Other teachers expressed the same sentiment. Zhiquan School was the one place in an otherwise unforgiving city where they felt safe and secure. They looked after one another, forming a kind of social safety net that the Beijing government refused to provide to migrant workers and their families.

The problem lies in China’s household registration system. Known as hukou, it was launched during the Mao era as a way to prevent rural residents from flooding cities. Eli Friedman, an associate professor at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., who has studied migrant communities in cities across China, says that Beijing has used this system “time and time again to remind people that this is not their home.”

“The city government doesn’t see these people as their responsibility,” he says. “They see them as expendable.”

By restricting subsidized social services to a person’s place of birth, the hukou system makes it almost impossible for migrant children to attend public schools in Beijing. Hundreds of privately run schools have opened over the years to enroll them instead. Many of these schools operate underground and tend to have poorly trained teachers and crude facilities. When Peng and Wang started work at Zhiquan School, the classrooms didn’t have heating. Yet that didn’t disqualify it from being named one of Beijing’s 63 official migrant schools in 2004, when the city gave it a license to operate.

Peng fell in love with Zhiquan School as soon as she arrived. Despite the long hours and low pay – her starting salary was 610 yuan ($75) a month – the school was her sanctuary, and she rarely ventured far from its walls. She cooked and did laundry with the other teachers after class and spent long summer evenings chatting with them near the playground. When she gave birth to Tianle, on Aug. 14, 2005, her colleagues shot off fireworks to celebrate. 

The gratitude Peng felt for Zhiquan School was cemented one summer afternoon when she found Wang lying on the floor of a public bathroom near the school. Wang had suddenly fallen ill. He couldn’t stand up, let alone walk. Peng ran to find Principal Qin, who quickly found a car to drive Wang to a nearby hospital. 

Once there, a doctor took one look at Wang and said he needed emergency surgery. But the 5,000 yuan ($600) fee was more than he could afford. Without hesitation, Qin said he would give him the extra 1,000 yuan ($120) he needed. He would later also hire a caretaker to look after Wang during his weeklong recovery. Afterward, when Wang tried to pay him back, Qin refused to take the money. 

“I sometimes like to talk about this with Wang Long,” Peng says. “I like to remind him that when life in Beijing gets hard, our colleagues have always been there to help us, especially Principal Qin.”

***

The Beijing government announced the demolition of Zhiquan School at the beginning of last July. It didn’t matter that the school had a license. Authorities had deemed all of Dongsanqi Village an illegal settlement that needed to be torn down. 

Residents were given until the end of the month to move out. On July 10, the government shut off water and electricity to the neighborhood. The school responded by renting a diesel generator and collecting water from a well. Qin knew he couldn’t prevail, but he at least wanted to buy time to find a new place to set up classrooms. 

“The students need to go to school,” he said at the time. “It would be irresponsible to leave them on their own.”

The first wrecking crew arrived unannounced at Zhiquan School on Aug. 1. By the end of the afternoon, a backhoe had flattened the front gate and a row of classrooms. Qin hadn’t expected the demolition to start so soon, and after a series of negotiations with government officials he won a temporary delay. The demolition wouldn’t resume until Aug. 21, just enough time for him to secure a lease on an empty building in the far north of Beijing.

Over the course of a single weekend, the few remaining teachers moved the school’s furniture and supplies to the building 13 miles away. Peng was hopeful that they would be able to start over, but reality soon sunk in. The demolition had forced many families from Dongsanqi to move back to the countryside. The school didn’t have enough students to reopen. On Sept. 1, Qin held a meeting with his teachers to tell them the news. 

“I felt helpless,” he says. “I didn’t have any other choice.”

Qin tried hard to find jobs for those who wanted to stay in Beijing. Peng and Wang went to work for another migrant school and moved into a single-room apartment on the northwest side of the city. (Both quit in January, and Wang has since started working at a tutoring agency.) 

With Zhiquan School closed for good, they decided to send Tianle to live with his grandparents in Guandimiao. It would be his first time away from his mother and father. 

“We don’t have a stable life,” Peng said last summer, after Tianle had already left. “Outsiders are no longer welcome in Beijing.”

Peng said this without a hint of resentment in her voice. She was sad. Of course she was sad. Zhiquan School was gone and so was her son. But rather than make her angry, these events reaffirmed what she already knew to be true and had come to reluctantly accept: that Beijing would never accept her. After 13 years of living in a city that had treated her family and her as second-class citizens, it was time to move on.

Her husband agreed. He didn’t like the government’s crackdown against migrant workers but said there was no use in trying to fight the system. The demolitions and evictions, like many efforts undertaken by China’s authoritarian government, are a fait accompli.

“There is no point in making a fuss,” he said. “Although we have lived here for more than a decade and feel sentimental about it, we can’t do anything about the government’s policy. We don’t want to keep drifting.”

***

Xie Yujuan/The Christian Science Monitor
Peng Jie (second from r.) and her family sit around a charcoal fire in Guandimiao, China, during Chinese New Year in February.

On Feb. 10, Peng and Wang drove from Beijing to Guandimiao to spend Chinese New Year with Peng’s family. Although the trip took more than 13 hours, Peng was excited to be home for the first time in months. Tianle ran over to greet his parents and help carry their bags. He had grown a couple inches since the last time he had seen them; the top of his head now came up to his mother’s chin. 

Dinner that night was a feast of braised pork, stir-fried vegetables, and steamed rice. After the family finished eating, they gathered round a charcoal fire pit to stay warm. It was then that Peng and Wang began to talk about their plans for the future: They wanted to move back to Henan, though they hadn’t yet decided between Guandimiao and Gushi. 

“When Zhiquan School was demolished half a year ago, we lost our sense of belonging,” Peng says. 

Her father said he thought it was a bad idea. There weren’t any jobs left in the countryside, he told them. They were better off staying in Beijing. 

But the couple had already decided. They would move back by the end of June and look for new jobs wherever they could find them. In the meantime, they would take Tianle back to the city. Peng had quit her teaching job so she could home-school him. 

“He hasn’t been away from me since he was born,” she says. “He wants to be in Beijing.” 

The next morning, Peng went with her son to see the school he had been attending in a neighboring town. Tianle had insisted that the trip would take only 30 minutes, yet it ended up taking more than an hour. 

“It’s because you walk slow,” he said to his mother as they made their way along a two-lane road. “I’m much faster on my own.”

To be sure, Peng wasn’t in a hurry. But to be fair, neither was Tianle. Together they stopped at a small pond to skip rocks and at a roadside stall to buy a box of firecrackers.

Peng reminisced about her childhood as they meandered toward the school. She told stories of long afternoons spent trying to catch sparrows in the rice fields and shared the stories her grandfather had once told her about a dragon that lived in the surrounding hills. 

Tianle listened halfheartedly to his mother’s tales. He was more interested in lighting firecrackers and throwing them into puddles of water. When they finally made it to the school – a white, two-story building made of concrete and brick – the front gate was locked for the holiday. The two of them stood there for a brief moment before turning to go back home. There was no point in lingering. It was only a school.

Xie Yujuan contributed to this report from China.

shadow

5. Not looking back: Where inmates use academia to relaunch lives

If you want to make society safer, conservatives and liberals tend to agree that investing in the higher education of prison inmates provides a path to a job after they’ve served their time. It also provides a sense of self-worth.

David
Alfredo Sosa/Staff
Stefano Delgado embraces his mother after a graduation ceremony at Willard-Cybulski Correctional Institution June 4 in Enfield, Conn. The diplomas were awarded by Asnuntuck Community College, one of four community colleges in Connecticut selected for an Obama-era pilot program that offers incarcerated people a way to access federal funds. In 1994 Congress barred prisoners from being eligible for Pell Grants.

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 7 Min. )

Whether prison is for punishment or rehabilitation often drives the discussion about access to education in jail. Proponents say that allowing people in prison to take college classes significantly increases their chances of finding steady work after release and lessens their risk of reoffending. A 2013 study found that those enrolled in educational programs are 43 percent less likely to end up back in jail. As policymakers in Washington and state capitals grapple with the cost, injustice, and social ills of housing the world’s largest prison population, it’s an idea that is gaining ground. An Obama-era pilot program has made Pell Grants available again to incarcerated Americans, a group that has been barred from federal aid since 1994. Some of those in the program, just finishing its second year, are graduating this month in Connecticut. Robert Pratt thanked college and prison officials for their support prior to speaking at a recent ceremony at Willard-Cybulski Correctional Institution. “I know where I came from. I’m no longer looking back,” Mr. Pratt told the rapt audience. “The sky’s the limit. It’s a wonderful feeling.”

Collapse

Not looking back: Where inmates use academia to relaunch lives

To the organ sounds of Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance,” Robert Pratt sits upright in his royal-blue front-row chair. Behind the row of eight black-gowned men sit family members and other invitees; ahead, a line of be-suited officials flank a small dais.

For Mr. Pratt, this is his second graduation ceremony, his second try at balancing a mortarboard hat on his closely cropped head. A week earlier he had joined 500 other graduates from Asnuntuck Community College – the class of 2018 – inside a columnated concert hall. But this time feels different, more real. The guys on his row? They’re his classmates, his peers.

And the room where they sit in rows, waiting for their diplomas, is their prison chow hall.

Pratt is among nearly 5,000 incarcerated people who enrolled in college classes last fall as part of the Second Chance Pell program begun under President Barack Obama. It was the second year of an experimental program that funnels Pell Grants to those in prison in 27 states, a workaround for a population that for decades had been ineligible for federal financial aid.

Proponents say college classes for people in prison significantly increase their chances of finding steady work after release and lessen the risk of reoffending. A 2013 study found that incarcerated individuals enrolled in educational programs are 43 percent less likely to end up back in jail. As policymakers in Washington and state capitals grapple with the cost, injustice, and social ills of housing the world’s largest prison population, it’s an idea that is gaining ground.

“We see that across the political system there’s a general sense that if we provide more education, including post-secondary education, to people in prison, we will have better public safety outcomes. This is a common sense solution,” says Margaret diZerega, a project director at the Vera Institute of Justice in New York.

Legislative momentum stalled

Still, that common sense has yet to percolate into legislative action, so the program is funded using discretionary monies. A spokesperson for the Department of Education says it has no specific end date and will continue until the department has sufficient data “to make an informed decision on whether or not the experiment should be adopted into law or concluded.”

Alfredo Sosa/Staff
Robert Pratt takes in the moment after the graduation ceremony at the Willard-Cybulski Correctional Institution on June 4, 2018 in Enfield, Conn. “I know where I came from. I’m no longer looking back,” he told a rapt audience during his speech at the event. “The sky’s the limit. It’s a wonderful feeling.”

Similar experimental programs run for 3 to 5 years, says Ms. diZerega, whose organization was selected by the Department of Justice to provide technical assistance to participating colleges and prisons. “They can end at any time. We don’t know how long this one will go,” she says.

A flurry of efforts in Congress to strike bipartisan agreements on justice reforms have so far yielded one bill passed last month in the House of Representatives. The First Step Act focuses on early release and education and vocational training in federal prisons, tied to goals for reducing recidivism, but wouldn’t lift the ban on Pell Grant for prisoners. The Senate has yet to take up the bill.

Community colleges like Asnuntuck rely on Pell and other financial aid to enroll students, many from low-income families. Helping prisoners to fill out paperwork to file for financial aid was more challenging, says Eileen Peltier, dean of workforce development and continuing education. To be eligible for Second Chance Pell grants, students had to be less than five years from release and the programs had to be shown to make them more employable in local job markets.

For Pratt and his classmates, that meant studying for a certificate in advanced manufacturing; Connecticut has thousands of vacancies for welders, toolmakers, and machinists, according to state officials. Asnuntuck is also working in two other prisons and enrolled 317 inmates in the 2017-18 academic year in diploma programs, says Ms. Peltier.

Other colleges participating in Second Chance Pell offer associate and bachelor degree courses, though students often need to earn additional credits later to graduate.

Of the 60 or so incarcerated people enrolled at Quinebaug Valley Community College – using Pell Grants through the pilot program –  around half go on to take more classes after their release, says Alfred Williams, dean of academic affairs and student services at the Danielson, Conn.-based school. “They want more. Their idea gets bigger,” he says.

Quinebaug has partnered with Brooklyn Correctional Facility, a medium-security prison in eastern Connecticut, to teach business and manufacturing classes five nights a week. He says the completion rate among inmates so far is around 90 percent, compared to 25 percent for typical students, and faculty have taken note. “The students [in prison] come to class more prepared that any on campus. They are motivated to learn.”

Like other officials involved in the program, Mr. Williams worries that its funding may not last. He’s looked at how Wesleyan University and others have developed privately funded prison programs and wonders if that could be an option. “One of the things we’ve talked about as a college is how we could fund this ourselves,” he says.

Alfredo Sosa/Staff
Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy speaks during the graduation ceremony at the Willard-Cybulski Correctional Institution on June 4, 2018, in Enfield, Conn. Incarcerated students graduated with a diploma in advanced manufacturing from Asnuntuck Community College.

Civilian 'whiplash'

Willard-Cybulski Correctional Institution, where Pratt spent the last six years, is a low-security facility for prisoners who are nearing release. It has an unusual arrangement with its partnering college: Four days a week, vetted students are bused to Asnuntuck’s nearby campus where they trained on manufacturing equipment in a brand-new facility, while being kept separate from other students. They also take classes in the prison and study together on weekends.

Stefano Delgado says these campus days often induced whiplash. He would change into civilian clothes, taste the freedom of being on campus, being outside the barbed wire fence, then be bused back to his prison dorm by nightfall. But it was worth the struggle, he says, indicating his family who had come to the prison to see him receive his certificate.

“It’s a proud moment for me. Instead of a courtroom, it was a graduation,” he says.

The graduation on June 4 was attended by Gov. Dannel Malloy, who has pushed hard for criminal justice reform in Connecticut. A week earlier, he convened an all-day conference on the topic inside a maximum-security prison. When it’s his turn to address Cybulski’s class of 2018, he congratulates them for their perseverance and urges them to make a fresh start on the outside.

“You have what it takes to be successful. You possess the tools to turn your lives and the lives of others around,” he says.

He adds, “There’s nothing like a job to keep you straight.”

Pratt nods. He has a job interview the next day, his first crack of finding work. In January, he transferred to a halfway house, then last month he was released from custody. He now lives in Bridgeport with his wife, Jessica, who drove them both to Cybulski, his first time back.

“Today was special because I walked back into prison a free man. So it was surreal to see the guys that I left behind continue to strive to go forward,” he says.

The road to a diploma

Pratt was 16 when he was arrested for the murder of a pizza delivery man and his subsequent journey through the prison system maps onto the evolution of thinking in the United States on crime and punishment. The homicide took place in 1992, at the peak of a post-1960s violent crime wave that led policymakers to double down on harsh sentencing and zero-tolerance policing.

Pratt was convicted of homicide and sentenced in 1994 to 40 years in prison. That same year, Congress ended Pell Grants for prisoners, arguing that financial aid was only for law-abiding citizens. At the time, 23,000 federal and state prisoners at over 1,000 facilities were taking college courses, still a fraction of the four million recipients of Pell Grants.

The following year Pratt earned a GED certificate. But that seemed to mark the end of his prison education. Then in 2000, Connecticut began sending prisoners to Virginia to ease overcrowding and save money, and Pratt was among them. “While I was down there they had a lot of schooling in their system,” he says. He enrolled in an electrical class, but didn’t have time to complete it before he was transferred back to Connecticut in 2003.

Like many other states, Connecticut continued to build prisons and expand incarceration, even as the crime wave that roiled politics in the 1990s was rapidly receding. Between 1985 and 2008, the state's prison population tripled. Over the same period, national crime rates peaked before falling precipitously to 50-year lows.

After he moved to Cybulski in 2012, Pratt got another taste of prison learning. This time it was computer repair, and Pratt proved a keen student. So when he heard about the manufacturing program, he made sure that the warden, whose office supplies he delivered as his prison job, knew that he wanted in. “They saw what I was doing to improve my life,” he says.

By this stage, Pratt was in a reintegration center at Cybulski that Governor Malloy opened in 2015 as part of his justice reforms. The center has a separate wing for veterans; three of this year’s manufacturing graduates are former Navy and Army soldiers. It provides job training and other classes for prisoners nearing release, from anger management to addiction counseling.

After Pratt moved to the halfway house in January, he kept taking classes at Asnuntuck, a two-hour bus ride away. He would leave at 6am and return exhausted, both by the classwork and the disorientation of civilian life. “Everything was new. I was experiencing life all over again,” he says.

But he kept going back and graduated with honors. At the June graduation he wore the golden sash of Phi Theta Kappa. And when he rose to make his speech, he thanked college and prison officials for their support and later reached over to hug Malloy.

“I know where I came from. I’m no longer looking back,” he told the rapt audience. “The sky’s the limit. It’s a wonderful feeling.”

SOURCE: Vera Institute of Justice
|
Jacob Turcotte/Staff
shadow

The Monitor's View

A Singapore summit that may pop fear in North Korea

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 2 Min. )

The summit between President Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un was about more than denuclearization. The agreement to rid the Korean Peninsula of nuclear weapons will require Mr. Kim to allow a freedom that its people do not enjoy. Inspectors will need to travel the country without restriction and under no surveillance. To assure the elimination of weapons, every building and mountain will need to be opened. North Koreans are not used to challenging their leaders. Yet now foreigners could be roaming the country demanding access. The bubble of isolation and fear could be burst. As their expectations rise, North Koreans could lose their fear of protesting. And many authoritarian regimes have fallen when the people are no longer afraid to voice their views. Yet a window was opened at the Singapore summit: Kim himself appears to want a different future for his people. But in possibly opening the country to inspections and inviting economic development, he may also be liberating his people. For North Korean society, fear would no longer be an organizing principle. 

Collapse

A Singapore summit that may pop fear in North Korea

As the world’s most repressive tyranny, the North Korean regime has survived by keeping its people in the dark, dampening their expectations, and instilling a fear of external enemies, especially the United States. Yet that survival strategy was hardly at work during the historic summit in Singapore on Tuesday between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and President Trump.

North Korea’s official media told the nation of 26 million that the talks could bring a “permanent and durable peace mechanism” with the US. TV images showed Mr. Kim touring Singapore, where “every building is stylish,” the streets are clean, and the country’s “good” development is worth following. Even the fact that the “supreme leader” had visited a country other than neighboring China must have created a mood of anticipation among North Koreans.

This summit was about more than denuclearization. In fact, the agreement to rid the Korean Peninsula of nuclear weapons will require Kim to allow a freedom that its people do not enjoy. Inspectors will need to travel the country without restriction and under no surveillance. To assure a verifiable and irreversible elimination of weapons, every building and mountain must be opened.

North Koreans are not used to challenging their leaders. Yet now foreigners could be roaming the country demanding access. The bubble of isolation and fear could be burst.

In addition, Kim wants to open his economy, which has been hit hard by recent sanctions. In a speech two months ago, he told the ruling party he wants to tap the country’s economic potential and “make the people’s laughter resound far and wide.”

For a dictatorship, freedom of thought, trade, and travel is a dangerous path. People will have more ownership of their own future. Most of all, as their expectations rise, North Koreans could lose their fear and follow South Korea in its popular protests to remove leaders. 

They could mentally withdraw their consent to be governed by the Kim dynasty. Instead of the US as the enemy, Kim could face a real foe in his own people.

Many authoritarian regimes have fallen when the people are no longer afraid to voice their views and demand their rights. Such a change will be difficult to detect in North Korea. The fear of being jailed for even a hint of dissent is real to anyone who has visited the country.

Yet a window was opened at the Singapore summit that reveals the possibility of change. Kim himself appears to want a different economic future for his people, one more like Singapore’s. But in possibly opening the country to inspections and inviting development, he may also be liberating his people. Fear would no longer be an organizing principle for North Korean society.

shadow

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.

A ‘Mr. Right’ search

  • Quick Read
  • Read or Listen ( 3 Min. )

Today’s contributor was freed from self-condemnation and remorse over failed marriages as she gained a more spiritual sense of the nature of love.

Collapse

A ‘Mr. Right’ search

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
Loading the player...

Trying to cheer me up one day, a friend commented, “You could always write a book: ‘The men I chose and regretted’!” We both started laughing, but deep down I was feeling overwhelmed by sadness and remorse. I seemed to have had so much heartache when it came to looking for “Mr. Right.” After three failed marriages, I had become very downhearted, and the pictures of a troubled past would play over and over in my mind, making it difficult to let go and move forward.

When something that seemed to hold such promise breaks down, we may find ourselves struggling to understand what has gone wrong, justifying our actions, and placing blame. We may feel that all the changes need to take place in the other person, or we may question ourselves and hold on to feelings of worthlessness and failure. But neither approach will bring lasting peace or progress.

I often turn to the Bible for comfort, and in the book of Isaiah, there’s a statement that tells us, “Thy Maker is thine husband” (54:5). The Scriptures also tell us that our Maker, God, is Love and that He deeply loves each of us, His spiritual creation. Christian Science teaches us that God knows all of His children as satisfied, whole, and complete, because that’s how He made us. We have a “weddedness” to our divine Maker, our union with divine Love, that is indissoluble.

Divine Love is ever present to bind up our broken hearts, wipe away all tears, and bring peace, harmony, and freedom from past mistakes. But to find and feel refuge in divine Love requires a shift in thought from a human concept of love to a more spiritual perspective. From this elevated vantage point, we can see our true identity: We are wedded to His purer, higher affection, and inseparable from and one with God, the very source of love itself.

During unhappy periods of marriage, a passage in another book I love would keep coming to thought. It’s from “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” by Mary Baker Eddy, who discovered Christian Science. Quoting the Bible, it says, “Patience must ‘have her perfect work’ ” (p. 454).

At first, I thought this meant that if I exercised sufficient patience, I would eventually get that which I desired. I always saw it as the other person being the one needing to change, and myself as needing to wait patiently for him to do so. One day I began to realize that instead, it was my perception of love that needed to be altered. And divine Love was right there to move my thought to a clearer concept of Love.

I also identified elements of self-centeredness, willfulness, and self-justification in my character, and in desiring to get beyond these traits I began to see that they had never been part of my real identity as the child of God. I recognized my need to value myself more as His creation, expressing spiritual qualities such as purity, integrity, sincerity, and so on. Everyone, as a son or daughter of God, includes these qualities, along with the ability to express them in his or her own unique way.

Although there were occasions when I struggled with having been divorced so many times, I was learning that willingness to divorce oneself from all that is unlike good – for instance, replacing harsh words with kindness and frustration with patience – reveals opportunities to express and experience more of the qualities of Love in our interactions with others.

I’ve found that doing so also enables us to find lasting happiness and peace. As our understanding of our relation to God, our true Maker and husband (or wife), begins to build, an inner sense of well-being and contentment starts to replace self-condemnation. Regret over the past gives way to hope and expectancy of good. Satisfaction in our true union with God is evidenced in happier and more harmonious relationships.

Willingness to shift to God, divine Spirit, as the basis of our thinking brings light and understanding. It frees us to express qualities of love, respect, appreciation, compassion, patience, and forgiveness. As the spiritual children of God, we are forever complete. What a blessing and a joy it is to know that whether we are married or not we always have in divine Love our “Mr. (or Mrs.) Right”!

Adapted from an article in the June 11, 2018, issue of the Christian Science Sentinel.

shadow

Viewfinder

Headed to shore

Salvatore Cavalli/AP
An Italian Coast Guard boat approaches the French NGO ship Aquarius in the Mediterranean Sea June 12 for a transfer of migrants. Italy directed ships to take more than 600 stranded migrants to Spain after Italy’s new government refused to admit them.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte. )
shadow

In Our Next Issue

( June 13th, 2018 )

David Clark Scott
Editor & product manager

Thanks for joining us. Come back tomorrow: We’re working on a story about Seattle’s about-face on a plan to tax local companies, such as Amazon and Starbucks, in order to combat homelessness. What role should companies play in reducing inequality?

Monitor Daily Podcast

June 12, 2018
Loading the player...

More issues

2018
June
12
Tuesday

Give us your feedback

We want to hear, did we miss an angle we should have covered? Should we come back to this topic? Or just give us a rating for this story. We want to hear from you.

 
of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.