David Clark Scott
Audience Engagement Editor

Water, water, everywhere.

A group of astronomers studied 4,000 known exoplanets (those are the planets orbiting a star outside our solar system), and they found that more than one-third were water worlds. In some cases, as much as half of the weight of these planets is water. (By comparison, Earth is only 0.02 percent water by weight.)

So water – and the potential for life – is far more abundant than many expected. Why is that surprising? Well, what we see in our own neighborhood, or in our own narrow experience, tends to shape our perceptions of reality. In this case, looking at the relative paucity of water in our solar system, we might be tempted to draw the conclusion that water is rare. But it turns out that we may be living in a cosmic Sahara – with Earth as an oasis – but elsewhere in the universe the norm is aquatic wonderlands. Of course, even within our solar system, we’ve started to find signs of more water on Mars, on our moon, and on the moons of Jupiter and Saturn.

Why does this matter?

First, it makes obsolete the scary movie plots in which aliens invade Earth for our water (a la “Battle: Los Angeles” in 2011). Clearly, there are plenty of better options out there.

But seriously, if water is one of the key ingredients for life, then life may be way more abundant than our own solar system suggests. And that’s a whole new way of looking at our universe.

Now to our five selected stories, including the pursuit of justice in the US, possible paths to stability between Israel and Gaza, and funding compassion with the US farm bill.

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1. Manafort guilty: Courtroom win bolsters special counsel’s credibility

Paul Manafort was the first person to stand trial of 32 individuals charged by the special counsel’s office in the Trump-Russia investigation. Tuesday’s guilty verdict could serve to apply pressure on Manafort to cooperate with the special counsel on the central focus of their investigation: collusion with Russia.


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They came as a one-two punch. Paul Manafort’s conviction today on tax evasion and bank fraud charges was announced in federal court in Alexandria, Va., within the same hour that President Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, entered a guilty plea for eight charges in federal court in New York. The Manafort conviction marks the first courtroom victory for special counsel Robert Mueller and his team of prosecutors and federal agents. The courtroom win also bolsters the special counsel’s credibility in the face of escalating public criticism by Mr. Trump and one of his lawyers, Rudy Giuliani, according to legal analysts. Despite the verdict, it remains unclear whether Mr. Manafort will now be any more willing to work with prosecutors. It is also unclear what, if anything, Manafort could provide to Mr. Mueller’s team that might help advance the Trump-Russia investigation. Manafort faces a second federal trial in Washington next month on charges that he conspired against the United States by acting as a lobbyist from 2005 to 2014 on behalf of politicians and political parties in Ukraine without registering with the US Justice Department.


Manafort guilty: Courtroom win bolsters special counsel’s credibility

Paul Manafort’s conviction on tax evasion and bank fraud charges clears the way for special counsel Robert Mueller to exert even more pressure on the former Trump campaign chairman to cooperate in his investigation of alleged Russian meddling and collusion in the 2016 presidential election.

The verdict, announced in federal court in Alexandria, Va., came within the same hour that President Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, entered a guilty plea for eight charges in federal court in New York.

Mr. Cohen’s plea included an acknowledgement that he violated federal campaign finance laws by arranging “hush-money” payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels and one other woman to maintain their silence about alleged affairs they had with Mr. Trump.

In the Manafort case, the jury of six women and six men found the longtime political consultant guilty of eight of the 18 federal charges in his indictment. They included five counts of filing false tax returns for the tax years 2010 through 2014.

He was also convicted of two counts of bank fraud and one count of failing to report an overseas financial account.

The jury deliberated for nearly 30 hours over four days.

US District Judge T.S. Ellis declared a mistrial in the 10 other charges on which the jury was unable to reach unanimous decisions. 

Despite the verdict, it remains unclear whether Mr. Manafort will now be any more willing to work with prosecutors than he has been to date.

It is also unclear what, if anything, Manafort could provide to Mr. Mueller’s team of investigators and prosecutors that might help advance the Trump-Russia investigation.

Second trial in September

Regardless, the special counsel’s office is poised to continue ratcheting up the pressure on Manafort.

He is facing a second federal trial in Washington next month on charges that he conspired against the United States by acting as a lobbyist from 2005 to 2014 on behalf of politicians and political parties in Ukraine without registering with the US Justice Department.

The 12-day federal tax and bank fraud trial in Alexandria was also related to Manafort’s work as a political consultant in Ukraine. That case focused on efforts from 2010 to 2014 by Manafort and others to hide some of his income from US authorities. Investigators also uncovered evidence that Manafort submitted false or misleading documents to obtain loans from US banks from 2015 to 2017 after Manafort’s overseas consulting income dried up.

During that same period, in mid-2016, Manafort served as Trump’s campaign chairman and manager.

The conviction marks the first courtroom victory for Mueller and his team of prosecutors and federal agents. Manafort was the first person to stand trial of 32 individuals charged by the special counsel’s office in the Trump-Russia investigation.

Among those indicted are 13 Russians charged with using social media to interfere in US elections and 12 Russian intelligence officers accused of hacking and publicly releasing private emails of officials at the Democratic National Committee.

Escalating public criticism from White House

The courtroom win bolsters the special counsel’s credibility in the face of escalating public criticism by Trump and one of his lawyers, Rudy Giuliani, according to legal analysts. Trump has repeatedly blasted the Russia collusion investigation in tweets and public comments as a “witch hunt.”

The harsh rhetoric is taking a toll on Mueller’s standing with the public. A Politico/Morning Consult Poll reported that Mueller’s unfavorability rating has risen in the past year from 23 percent in July 2017 to 36 percent in June.

The increasingly hostile posture by the White House has also given rise to speculation that the president might issue a pardon to Manafort and others targeted in the Mueller probe.

Last Friday, during the jury’s second day of deliberations, Trump was asked by reporters if he would pardon Manafort.

“I don’t talk about that,” he said.

But then Trump added: “I think the whole Manafort trial is very sad. When you look at what is going on there. I think it’s a very sad day for our country.”

Trump said Manafort worked on his campaign for a “very short” period of time. “But you know what, he happens to be a very good person. And I think it is very sad what they’ve done to Paul Manafort.”

Some legal analysts view Trump’s comments as a signal to Manafort about a possible pardon.

“By calling Manafort’s trial unfair and Paul a good man, Trump is tampering with the unsequestered jury,” Harvard Law Prof. Laurence Tribe tweeted last weekend.

He added that Trump was “hinting to Manafort that he’s in for a pardon unless he now starts cooperating with Mueller”.

Sen. Susan Collins, (R) of Maine, said Tuesday’s guilty verdict was not unexpected. “It seems to me that the prosecution built a pretty strong case, so I’m not really surprised at those convictions,” she told the Monitor.

At a recent breakfast meeting with reporters hosted by the Monitor, former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski said the president questions whether Manafort is being treated fairly by the special counsel’s office.

“Has Paul received the same treatment that anybody else would have received had they been accused of the same crime and not associated with Trump?” Mr. Lewandowski asked. “It is a question [the president has] raised, and I think it is a fair question.”

Lewandowski said a pardon may depend in part on the jury verdict. “If he’s guilty on all 18 counts that’s very different than if you’re guilty on one or two,” he said in comments last week.

But he added that he has not spoken directly to the president about a pardon.

On Tuesday, Senate minority leader Charles Schumer told reporters, “I understand the president’s on his way to a rally. He better not talk about pardons for Michael Cohen or Paul Manafort tonight, or any time in the future.” He had not been fully briefed on the plea deal or convictions.

Although Mueller’s primary focus is to investigate an alleged conspiracy between Russia and members of the Trump campaign to influence the 2016 presidential election, the Manafort trial in Virginia focused on actions unrelated to Russia and the 2016 election.

Many legal analysts, including Judge Ellis, suggest that prosecutors indicted Manafort on tax and bank fraud charges as a way to pressure Manafort into cooperating in the central focus of their investigation – collusion with the Russians.

As a result of his conviction, Manafort, who is in his late 60s, may face about seven to 10 years in prison under federal sentencing guidelines. The government is also seeking to forfeit two of Manafort’s homes, an estate in the Hamptons on Long Island, and a brownstone in Brooklyn on Union Street.

Manafort is a long-established lobbyist and political consultant in Washington, having worked on campaigns for Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole, and most recently, Donald Trump.

Prosecutors believe he received $60 million from his work on behalf of pro-Russian politicians and political parties in Ukraine. They said he routed the money through a network of secret overseas accounts that he and his business associate, Rick Gates, controlled.

While Manafort paid taxes on much of his overseas income, he did not disclose the existence of the secret accounts on his tax forms. In addition, Manafort and Mr. Gates wired non-taxed funds from the secret foreign accounts to US-based vendors and others to pay for expensive clothing, luxury cars, home renovations, and real estate.

Gates pleaded guilty in February and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors. He testified against his former boss, enduring portions of three days on the witness stand. He was the single most important witness in the government’s case against Manafort. In addition to outlining the broad scope of the tax evasion, Gates offered insider details, testifying that his actions were known, directed, and authorized by Manafort.

Manafort’s lawyers had sought to blame much of the illegal activity on Gates himself, who acknowledged in court that he embezzled several hundred thousand dollars from Manafort. But the argument was apparently not enough to sway the jury.

Gates’ testimony was closely watched for a second reason. Many legal analysts were looking for hints of whether Gates has provided evidence of potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia to the Mueller team. He testified that he has met with investigators more than 20 times as part of his cooperation agreement.

The most intriguing moment in the trial in that regard came when Gates, under cross-examination, was asked whether he had been questioned by the special counsel’s office about activities during the Trump presidential campaign.

Gates acknowledged that he’d answered questions from the special counsel’s office about the Trump campaign. But when he was pressed for more detail, prosecutors objected.

The lawyers then conferred with the judge in a sidebar conference out of earshot of the jury and the public gallery.

When the cross examination of Gates resumed, the defense lawyer moved on to a new area.

Two days later, prosecutors filed a motion asking Ellis to seal four portions of the transcript of that sidebar conference. It amounted to about 16 lines total of transcript type.

“During the sidebar conference, substantive evidence pertaining to an ongoing investigation was revealed,” the government’s motion says in part. The transcript must be sealed to preserve the confidentiality of the government’s ongoing investigation, the motion says.

Ellis agreed and ordered the requested portions of the transcript be sealed “until the relevant aspect of the investigation is revealed publicly, if that were to occur.”

It is not clear what “ongoing investigation” was revealed in the sidebar conference. But some analysts speculate that perhaps Gates has provided evidence related to the Trump campaign and Russia.

Staff writer Francine Kiefer contributed to this report.


2. Private audience: GOP moderates meet with court nominee ahead of vote

Could Roe v. Wade be overturned? That’s what some hoped – or feared – with the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh. Two key GOP senators, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine, have found nothing "disqualifying" about the judge so far, but have lots of questions for him this week.

Alex Wroblewski/Reuters
US Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh meets with Sen. Susan Collins (R) of Maine on Capitol Hill in Washington Aug. 21.

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All senators are equal, but when it comes to the confirmation of Judge Brett Kavanaugh as the next US Supreme Court justice, those seen as swing votes are more powerful than their colleagues. Moderate Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska – who famously voted last summer to block the GOP effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act – are once again in the spotlight this week as they conduct private interviews with Judge Kavanaugh and attempt to learn more about where he stands on key issues such as abortion. President Trump made clear during the campaign that he would favor justices who would overturn Roe v. Wade, and Kavanaugh could cast the deciding vote in future abortion cases. Senator Murkowski, who studied his opinions over the August recess (she described him to the Monitor as a “good writer”), is preparing to meet with the judge on Thursday. Senator Collins, who conducted a two-hour interview with him earlier today, told reporters that Kavanaugh told her he shares Chief Justice John Roberts’s view that Roe is “settled law.” But as Murkowski points out, that does not necessarily mean it is the last word on that issue.


Private audience: GOP moderates meet with court nominee ahead of vote

In recent weeks, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R) of Alaska has felt like she’s back in law school – reading the opinions of Judge Brett Kavanaugh as she prepares for her interview with the US Supreme Court nominee on Thursday.

“I’ve done more with this nominee than I have with any of the others,” Senator Murkowski told the Monitor. “I’ve allowed myself good blocks of time to actually read and digest, rather than feeling rushed [like] I’ve got to spend an evening cramming for something.” 

She’s also been consulting widely with Alaskans about what questions to ask. It’s been a “vigorous” process – and an enjoyable one, she says, adding that “it helps that Kavanaugh is a good writer.”

All senators are equal, but in this closely divided Senate, those seen as swing votes are more powerful than their colleagues. This week, all eyes are on moderate Republicans Murkowski and her colleague Sen. Susan Collins of Maine – who famously voted last summer to block the GOP effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) – as they conduct private interviews with Judge Kavanaugh and attempt to learn more about where he stands on key issues such as abortion.

President Trump made clear during the campaign that he would favor justices who would overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1974 landmark case that established a woman’s right to an abortion. Kavanaugh could be the deciding vote in future abortion cases, and Murkowski and Senator Collins, who favor abortion rights, are the only two known undecided Republican senators. If all Democrats vote against Kavanaugh – though that’s far from a given – and if Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona remains absent as he has all year, a “nay” by either Murkowski or Collins could sink Kavanaugh.

So far, neither has found anything “disqualifying” about the nominee. But that does not mean they don’t have a lot of questions for him, or that they have made up their mind.

“I have always waited until after the Judiciary Committee hearings before rendering a final decision on a Supreme Court nominee,” Collins told reporters, emerging from her office after a meeting with Kavanaugh that lasted for more than two hours. “You never know what questions are going to come up.”

Collins, famous in the Senate for her deep dives into issues, says 15 attorneys from the independent Congressional Research Service have been briefing her for several hours every other day. So when Kavanaugh made his way to her corner office on Tuesday morning, she was prepared. They covered a “wide range of issues,” she said, from executive power to gun regulation, from healthcare to judicial philosophy and what judges he admires most.

And they talked “at great length” about precedent and the application of it to abortion cases.

“We talked about whether he considered Roe to be settled law,” Collins said. “He said he agreed with what Justice Roberts said at his nomination hearing, in which he said that it was settled law.”

But that is hardly the final word on this issue. Democrats point out that conservative justices cast aside what has been considered settled law on other issues – on unions, for instance.

Settled law “is not the important or decisive question,” Senate minority leader Charles Schumer (D) of New York told reporters after meeting with the judge Tuesday afternoon. Senator Schumer said he asked Kavanaugh whether he agreed that Roe and another key abortion ruling were “correctly decided.” The judge did not say yes. “That should send shivers down the spine of any American who believes in reproductive freedom,” Schumer said.

Democrats also point out that state attempts to further restrict abortion rights could work their way up to the Supreme Court, where Kavanaugh could cast one or more deciding votes that slowly erode those rights.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R) of Alaska speaks with reporters following a weekly GOP policy lunch on Capitol Hill in Washington, July 31, 2018. Senator Murkowski is viewed as a possible swing vote on confirming Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh.

That’s something Murkwoski says she wants to question him about, specifically how he might interpret “undue burden.” In 1992, the Court ruled that states cannot enact laws that put an “undue burden” on women who are seeking to have an abortion.

Murkowski has many other questions – her own, and those gathered from groups such as the National Education Association, which wants her to ask about school vouchers. On Saturday, she was out with the public at a market, listening to their concerns. “Alaskans have been weighing in a lot. It is women’s reproductive health, it’s the ACA.” It’s also executive power and the reach of government agencies, which are important to Alaskans. “Privacy is a big one for us as well.”

In an exclusive interview with the Monitor in April, Collins lamented the “politicization” of the judicial nomination process.

“It really bothers me that we now have a quote liberal bloc on the Supreme Court, and a conservative bloc,” she said.

Collins probed Kavanaugh on his views on an independent judiciary, asking whether he made any “commitments or pledges” to the conservative Federalist Society or the White House about how he would decide any issues.

“He unequivocally assured me that he had not made any such commitments, and he expressed his deep respect for the independence of the judiciary,” she said in a statement after the interview.

The overall approving tone of the statement seems to support the idea that it would only be something as yet uncovered that might dissuade her from eventually supporting Kavanaugh. Indeed, Collins gives great deference to a president’s right to nominate justices. During her tenure in the Senate, she has never voted against a president’s nominee – be that president a Democrat or a Republican.


3. For now, at least, Israel and Hamas step back from the brink in Gaza

It’s unusually quiet now on the front between Israel and Hamas. Perhaps it's yet another temporary truce. But some say both sides may be laying the foundation – and gathering the courage – for a more enduring stability in the region.

Mohammed Salem/Reuters
Palestinians take to the water Aug. 18 to protest the Israeli blockade on Gaza. After a summer of alternating tension and calm, Hamas and Israel have sought to step back from the brink of what had seemed like an inevitable conflagration, four years after fighting a monthlong summer war.

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Months of violent Gaza demonstrations, incendiary kite launches, and rocket fire have eased or gone silent, and Israel has mostly reopened commercial crossings in Gaza that were shuttered in retaliation. Following the worst instability since a monthlong Israel-Hamas war in 2014, the two sides have sought to step back from the brink. “Hamas wants relief from the economic pressures they’re facing,’’ says Daniel Shapiro, a former US ambassador to Israel. “Israel wants an end to the border conflicts ­– and that creates the incentives for an agreement.” But Ambassador Shapiro and other experts note a return to previous agreements, without addressing Gaza’s ailing economy, isn’t likely to produce a lasting peace. Weeks of indirect, UN-mediated negotiations between Israel and Hamas have spurred talk of a broader, more ambitious truce. But analysts say such a deal requires two bold political moves that have seemed unattainable: mutual de facto recognition by Israel and Hamas. Nickolay Mladenov, the UN mediator, said donors supporting Gaza would not continue to do so without a credible political horizon. “This cannot be another futile exercise in conflict management and recurring humanitarian support,” he said.


For now, at least, Israel and Hamas step back from the brink in Gaza

After four months of mortar fire, brush fires, and fears of a wider war between Israel and Hamas, a fragile cease-fire has been taking hold along the Gaza-Israel frontier over the last few days.

But even as civilians on both sides express a desire for calm and stability, and as indirect talks resurrect previously employed practical arrangements, the question remains as to whether a more durable peace can be achieved without bolder political decisions on both sides.

With her ears still ringing from rocket sirens, Yael Lachyani, a spokeswoman for Kibbutz Nahal Oz, says she is still on edge and can’t be sure the fighting is over.

“This summer has been confusing. One day we wonder if we should get ready to leave our home because a war is going to start, and then we wake up in the morning and the press says we have a return to calm,’’ says Ms. Lachyani. “No one wants a military operation, but we also don’t want a situation where we don’t know what is going to happen tomorrow.”

Months of violent demonstrations and incendiary kite launches have eased, rocket fire has gone silent, and Israel has mostly reopened commercial crossings in Gaza that were shuttered in retaliation.

Both Hamas and Israel have sought to step back from the brink of what had seemed like an inevitable conflagration following the worst period of instability since Israel and Hamas fought a monthlong war in the summer of 2014.

“It’s clear that both the Israeli government and the Hamas leadership want to avoid a full-scale conflict,’’ says Daniel Shapiro, a former US ambassador to Israel and a fellow at Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies. “Hamas wants relief from the economic pressures they’re facing. Israel wants an end to the border conflicts ­– and that creates the incentives for an agreement.”

The question is, how robust of an agreement? The current calm is based on a return to a series of informal understandings that ended the 2014 war. But Ambassador Shapiro and other experts note that such an agreement is likely to be short lived because it doesn’t address the economic conditions in Gaza, a blockaded narrow swath of coastline with about 2 million residents and 54 percent unemployment.

Before the current calm took hold, both sides seemed on the brink of war. Hamas fired dozens of rockets into southern Israel, including into the city of Beersheva for the first time since the 2014 war. Israel shuttered commercial crossings, blocked medical supplies and fuel from entering Gaza, and leveled a five-story apartment building it said was connected to Hamas.

UN-mediated talks

For its part, Israel’s defense establishment is interested in avoiding a fourth war with Hamas in 10 years, analysts say. Instead of Gaza, its top priority is Iran’s entrenchment in Syria as the civil war winds down there.

Defense officials “are concerned that the conditions in Gaza will lead to more violence directed at Israel,’’ Ehud Eiran, a political science professor at Haifa University, writes in an email, “so they support both steps that will alleviate humanitarian concerns and will create mechanisms that help stabilize the situation and diminish the chances for violence.”

Weeks of indirect talks between Israel and Hamas mediated by the United Nations have spurred talk of a broader, more ambitious truce that would boost investment in Gaza’s badly ailing economy. Important components include fixing broken infrastructure, giving Gazans work permits in Israel, and perhaps green-lighting plans for a seaport.

A truce deal might also involve the return of two Israeli civilians and the bodies of two Israeli soldiers held in Gaza since 2014. Egyptian mediators have also been talking with the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority in the West Bank to encourage a reconciliation of the 11-year rift with Hamas as part of the deal with Israel. Efforts by the two main Palestinian factions to reconcile have failed repeatedly.

Mutual recognition

But, say analysts, such a broad deal, euphemistically referred to in Israel as an “arrangement,” would have to involve two bold political moves that have seemed unattainable: Israel’s de facto recognition of Hamas’s rule in Gaza and similar Hamas recognition of Israel.

In a July 25 briefing to the UN Security Council, Nickolay Mladenov, the UN’s special coordinator for the Middle East peace process who has been mediating the Israel-Hamas talks, said humanitarian donors supporting Gaza would not continue to do so without a credible political horizon.

“This cannot be another futile exercise in conflict management and recurring humanitarian support,” he said in a statement.

Accepting Hamas’s status would mark a watershed for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, both of whom vowed before taking office that they would order the army to retake Gaza and overthrow Hamas as a response to the rocket fire.

The two leaders have been taking flak from hardliners like Naftali Bennett, of the pro-settler Jewish Home Party, who warned in a television interview that a cease-fire with Hamas would amount to a “surrender” that buys Hamas time to get stronger before a new round of fighting. Mr. Bennett expressed support for an all-out bombing campaign to “squash” Hamas.

That’s a long way from mutual recognition.

“In order to reach a broader agreement, you have to touch on ideological issues. Hamas would have to recognize Israel,’’ says Amir Tibon, a diplomatic correspondent for Israel’s liberal Haaretz newspaper, referring to a consensus among analysts that even an informal, unspoken recognition would be understood on both sides as a coming to terms with each other.

And Israel would have to drop its efforts to isolate Hamas politically and oppose Palestinian reconciliation, he says. “The next time the Palestinians want a unity government, what can you say? That Israel can do an agreement with Hamas but Abbas can’t?”

'People with sad faces'

On Tuesday, Israeli news reports quoted Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh as saying that “we are on the way to ending the blockade on Gaza.”

Gisha, an Israeli non-profit advocating for freedom of movement for Palestinians, warned in a statement that the restrictions have been “dangerous” by exacerbating the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

Despite the calm, there have been isolated Palestinian demonstrations at the border and shooting at Israeli soldiers. In retaliation, Israel closed the pedestrian crossing in the northern Gaza Strip.

“The people who have been demonstrating at the border are from Hamas,’’ says a Palestinian taxi driver in Gaza who declined to give his name for fear of punishment by the Hamas government. “Most people want a truce, they don’t care with who. They want to lift the siege already. You see people with sad faces. I’m one of them.”

'The south is burning'

Frustrated by weeks of uncertainty, groups of Israeli residents from the Gaza region took to the streets over the weekend, protesting in central Tel Aviv over the ongoing instability. Holding signs reading “the south is burning,” they called on the government to find a long-term solution to fighting.

Mr. Tibon, who lived for several years at Nahal Oz before moving to Washington, D.C., says that since the end of the 2014 war there has been an influx of several hundred new residents to the region bordering Gaza, and an expansion of building and restaurants. A war would halt that expansion.

“It’s quiet now, but that can change at any moment,’’ says Ofer Liebman, the agricultural directorof Kibbutz Nir Am, which also borders Gaza. While Mr. Liebman says he would be supportive of a long-term deal to lift Israel’s 11-year old blockade on Gaza if the cease-fire lasts, he says prospects for a sustained quiet are “minimal.’’

Suggesting support for a broad agreement, Lachyani, the Nahal Oz spokeswoman, says she’s hoping that the sides can reach an agreement for as long as possible so that residents on both sides of the border can get back to building up their communities. For now, she pines for the stability to go back to a routine for herself and her sleepless daughter.

“I need a couple of weeks to bring back the confidence that she can sleep with the lights off,’’ Lachiyani says. “I want to go back to a normal life where I get up, go to work, and don’t have to spend a couple of hours in the safe room. And I believe that the Palestinians need that as well.’’


4. What farm-bill wrangling means for farmers, and ‘food stamps’

As the farm bill makes its way through Congress, there’s a tricky balance to strike between compassion for America’s most needy during a strong economy and compassion for farmers amid falling crop prices.


It’s called the farm bill, but really it’s a safety net where most of the funds go to the poor. Congress is in the middle of reconciling House and Senate versions of the bill, which will affect some 40 million poor Americans and some 2 million farmers. The most dramatic changes are in the House version of the farm bill. First, it stiffens work requirements for those who receive benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. While SNAP already requires most working-age adults to register for work and accept a job, if offered, the new bill would have most recipients prove they had worked in the past month or spent 20 hours in a work program. Second, the House bill weakens conservation programs and cuts their funding more sharply than the Senate version. The Senate version, meanwhile, tightens eligibility requirements for farmers receiving subsidies, while the House version expands them. With the poor doing better in a strong economy, and farmers struggling with falling crop prices, the conferees may well move to soften the more controversial reforms.

SOURCE: Congressional Budget Office, American Farm Bureau Federation, US Department of Agriculture, US Department of Agriculture; Environmental Working Group
Jacob Turcotte and Laurent Belsie/Staff


5. Notes to my garden denizens: a late-August saga

Finally, for our nature lovers, here’s an essay by a former Monitor staffer. Why she’s sending memos to the critters in her yard.


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Chipmunks raiding the suet feeder? Sure. But when they leap to the hummingbird feeder, tip it just so with their hind paws, and sip that pink stuff out of the artificial flowers? That demands, well, that demands a memo. Likewise the dive-bombing barn swallows. (Notice any baby-bird-eating cats in this house? No. Seen any snakes? No, again. Those are all in the basement.) Then there’s the matter of the newly planted asparagus bed. Couple of suspects getting stern notes about that: the deer and maybe the voles. Those tracks are big. Moose? Nobody messes with moose, least of all the author of this essay. Anything they want in that garden, just take it. Anything at all. P.S. There may be another suspect. (You’ll need to read the full essay to find out.) 


Notes to my garden denizens: a late-August saga

Memo to chipmunks, May 21: I surrender. Unconditionally. I don’t mind so much that you can leap onto feeders. It’s OK that you can unhook suet feeders, fling them to the ground, undo the latch, and drag off the suet. I don’t even mind that you don’t respect me enough to pretend to run off when I shout at you. But when I saw you today, leaping onto the hummingbird feeder, tipping it just so with your hind paws, and sipping that pink stuff out of the artificial flowers – that’s it. You win. I give up. 

Memo to whippoorwills, May 30:
I hesitate to mention this, especially since I haven’t heard you guys much since my childhood. But this screaming at night, at a rate of 56 cries per minute (I counted), is getting excessive. You, the owls, and the frogs are turning nighttime into quite the racket. 

I get that you’ve got this mating thing going, but 56 piercing cries a minute is a little desperate. If you really think it’s necessary, I suggest that you GET A ROOM. 

Memo to barn swallows, June 3 [­URGENT]: Enough with the divebombing every time we try to get into the house – or try to leave it, for that matter. (Great job on the nest, though. Who would have thought of building a nest stuck to one side of a porch light fixture?) Didn’t you notice that we stopped turning on that light after you began the nest? Now we can’t tell if it’s a neighbor or the local bear at the door at night. 

Notice any baby-bird-eating cats in this house? No. Seen any big snakes lately? No, again. The snakes are all in the basement. 

If you must divebomb someone, bomb the bear. With kind regards from the folks who live in your house.

Memo to deer, June 16: It took you longer than I figured to discover that the old family garden has been revived. By an amateur. Planting the asparagus crown and roots upside down at first was not a promising start. But did you really have to walk through the new bed? I mean, what’s the point? Wait a year or so and there will be good stuff for you to eat. 

For now, it’s just footprints in mulch. Have faith. Give these little plants a chance.

Apology to deer and memo to moose, June 17: I owe all the town deer a sincere apology. You did not trample my newly planted asparagus bed. You deer have delicate little hooves. The forensic evidence in this case shows a span of at least five inches. Our friend Lilian proposed the moose scenario, but Lilian lives in England, where she’s an expert on computers, stars (in the sky), and motorcycles. What could she possibly know about moose? But when Tom, who knows everything about wood, woods, and motorcycles, also mentioned moose, I reexamined the tracks. You deer are off the hook. As for you moose: We don’t mess with moose. Anything you want in that garden, just take it. Anything at all. Just spare the house. P.S. We brake for moose.

Memo to voles, June 18: Until now, I didn’t know you existed. But when I asked neighbors what animal would burrow through a freshly planted asparagus bed, drag all the roots to the surface, not eat a thing, then repeat down the row, voles were the No. 1 suspect. You must know that a great deal of effort went into planting that asparagus. Do you know what it’s like to be stepped on by a moose? Save yourself! If it’s a snack you want, try the feeder. You’d only have chipmunks to worry about.

P.S. I may be wrong. There is another suspect – my husband. When apprised of the havoc in the asparagus bed, a friend in Florida offered this: “I’m guessing Rob doesn’t like asparagus?”


The Monitor's View

Greece’s day of redemption

Today, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras marked the end of his country’s eight-year “odyssey” from international bailouts that were the largest for any sovereign nation in history ($330 billion). The official end of the bailout from Greece’s eurozone partners and the International Monetary Fund, he said, was “a day of redemption.” He pointed to a need for further reforms, such as better tax compliance and the end of a patronage system. But Greece is now a stable center in the eastern Mediterranean. Its economy is growing 1 to 2 percent, exports are rising, and unemployment is falling. While it will take years to lower its outsize debt, Greece’s budget is running a surplus. It can again seek money from financial markets. More Greeks now see more of a future in entrepreneurship than in government work. The imposed austerity has left its mark on daily life and many businesses; many well-educated Greeks have left for other countries. Yet the “new era” also includes a shake-up of Greece’s politics. People are more demanding of integrity and accountability. So far, the odyssey has been worth it, both for Greece and the rest of Europe.


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.

Reacting to headlines?

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Today’s column explores the idea that a desire to see things from God’s perspective empowers us to discern tangible solutions to worrisome or tragic news events.


Reacting to headlines?

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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Speculation about trade wars dominated the morning headlines. Within hours a massive sell-off caused a major stock indicator to tumble more than 500 points. The next day, fear of trade wars subsided, and the economy roared back into the news, this time because of an equally fast and robust recovery. This roller-coaster ride continued, playing itself out over the following weeks.

A financial reporter asked one of the analysts on the floor of the stock exchange to explain the dramatic swings. “We’re running on a lot of headlines,” he said. Emotion and fear were driving things.

His comment seems fitting on more fronts than just the economy. From the constant flow of headlines that exaggerate and sensationalize everyday life, it would seem that today’s world has never been in worse shape. With the ability to access news so quickly and simply, it’s a good idea to ask ourselves: Are we “running on a lot of headlines”?

Most of us prefer not to be swept up in daily broadcast turbulence. Yet we still want to make a difference – to bring solutions to what’s going on in our communities and world. But if we’re harboring uncertainty and unsettling emotions, we’re not able to do much more than imagine what a happier, more harmonious life would be like. Maintaining a sense of peace while addressing tough issues in the news requires a strong commitment to a different outlook, rather than just wishing for better news.

I’ve found it empowering to identify that commitment as a spiritual one, to turn to God as the source of every healing response. Christian Science teaches that God is the all-encompassing Principle of being. He is omnipotent, supreme over all creation. And He is Spirit, the all-good and infinite divine Mind – the origin of every true thought, motive, and act. Mind naturally and harmoniously governs its ideas. The prophet Jeremiah described God’s perspective this way: “I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end” (Jeremiah 29:11).

As we trust in God’s guidance and strive to perceive Him as constantly good and loving, our thoughts rise above an emotion-driven, limited interpretation of things. We’re drawn instead to Mind’s calm, spiritual perspective. The real news is that although a grossly imperfect model of life may pass itself off as the way things are, this just isn’t so. God has given us the capacity to perceive what’s divinely true for everyone: that we are each the perfect and perpetual expression of Spirit.

Holding to this radically spiritual sense of being corrects – and brings healing to – the mistaken, disheartening impression that there’s so much wrong with life. Mary Baker Eddy, who discovered the Science of Christ in the late 19th century, explains in her signature work, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” “Truth and Love antidote this mental miasma, and thus invigorate and sustain existence” (p. 274). (Here, Truth and Love are used as synonyms for God.)

No amount of anger, conflict, or despair in the headlines can separate us from what God is revealing of life in Spirit, complete and good. A plan of action for taking further steps of progress? It’s really about the natural activity of the qualities of Mind in our consciousness, supplying practical ideas for healing our world. Through prayer and a desire to learn more of this spiritual reality, we become inspired and find a deeper sense of peace and well-being. More and more, this spiritualized thinking makes us problem-solvers, able to discern tangible solutions to worrisome or tragic news events.

Adapted from an editorial published in the July 23-30, 2018, issue of the Christian Science Sentinel.



A goldfish refuge

Pascal Rossignol/Reuters
Emie Le Fouest signs over her goldfish, Luiz Pablo, to the Aquarium de Paris. The aquarium takes fish – to keep – from those heading off on weeks-long holiday travels – some of whom might otherwise dispose of them. The fish are given health checks before being added to giant display tanks. Outside the confines of home tanks, most grow to the size of their wild carp relatives.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris. )

In Our Next Issue

( August 22nd, 2018 )

David Clark Scott
Audience Engagement Editor

Thanks for joining us. Come back tomorrow: We’re working on a story about the political implications of two legal cases that came to a head Tuesday afternoon: Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort's tax and bank fraud trial and the plea deal struck with feds by former Trump lawyer, Michael Cohen. 

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August 21, 2018
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