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
August
28
Tuesday
David Clark Scott
Editor & product manager

You’re probably going to hear a lot about Mollie Tibbetts in the run-up to the midterm elections. She was the missing Iowa college student who was found last week, murdered. Police have charged an unauthorized immigrant from Mexico.

Her death has reignited the debate over crime and immigration. But should it? Despite what you may have heard, immigrants who come to the United States illegally don’t increase the crime rate in the country.

A recent study of crimes in Texas by the libertarian Cato Institute shows that in 2015, there were 50 percent fewer criminal convictions of unauthorized immigrants than of native-born Americans. As a proportion of the population, there were fewer murderers or rapists among immigrants.

You might say, well, that’s just Texas. If you looked at other states you’d find unauthorized immigrants mean higher crime rates.

Actually, no.

A study published in March in the journal Criminology found that states with more unauthorized immigrants (1990-2014) tended to have a lower crime rate. In fact, as that population rose, violent crime went down.

Those facts may be of little comfort to the Tibbetts family.

But perhaps it’s why Ms. Tibbetts's dad resisted the temptation to see all immigrants as murderers. Instead, Rob Tibbetts said in his eulogy on Sunday, "The Hispanic community are Iowans. They have the same values as Iowans,” the Des Moines Register reported. Then he added with a smile, "As far as I'm concerned, they're Iowans with better food."

~

Now to our five selected stories, including paths to progress for workers in America, refugees from Nicaragua, and job hunters in Ohio.

Share this article

1. At heart of US-Mexico trade deal, signs of a shift

Say what you may about President Trump’s negotiating style, the new US-Mexico trade deal suggests a larger shift from consumers to factory workers as a priority.

David
Evan Vucci/AP
President Trump talked with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto from the White House by telephone as the two announced a tentative deal on trade Monday.

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 5 Min. )

When the North American Free Trade Agreement launched in 1994, it was companioned by side deals on labor and the environment. The pairing symbolized rising concern that the virtues of open trade be pursued with an eye toward their promise for average people as well as global businesses. But it also fell far short of what labor unions and others hoped for. That’s the backdrop for an announcement this week of a new trade pact by the presidents of the United States and Mexico. President Trump says it will help US factory workers by giving no-tariff preference to imports from Mexico that include lots of high-wage content (from US suppliers). It promises reforms to improve pay and job conditions for Mexican workers as well. Labor advocates are still waiting for actual text of the agreement, and to see if it will ultimately include Canada – and then be enacted to replace NAFTA. “The very fact that there’s a labor chapter in the text instead of a side agreement is an encouraging sign,” says Gladys Cisneros, a worker advocate in Mexico.

Collapse

1. At heart of US-Mexico trade deal, signs of a shift

A new United States-Mexico deal could end up doing something novel for an international trade agreement: putting concerns of workers near the center of the accord.

President Trump touted this promise in announcing the tentative agreement. And Mexico’s labor-oriented president-elect is backing the deal alongside the nation’s current president.

“It’s an incredible deal for both parties,” Mr. Trump said Monday in a joint announcement from the Oval Office, with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto linked in by phone. “Most importantly, it’s an incredible deal for the workers and for the citizens of both countries.”

There’s not yet a formal text to judge how much that boast will be borne out in practice, labor advocates in both nations are quick to note. But the deal does represent at least some departure from an era when trade deals left worker concerns largely on the periphery – contributing to a backlash against globalization that politicians including Trump have tapped into.

Junking parts of Republican orthodoxy, the trade agreement includes several ideas that organized labor and liberals in Congress have been pushing for decades. Most dramatically, the pact helps US factory workers by linking low wage levels with trade limitations. In addition, it includes sweeping reforms of Mexican labor law that, if carried out and enforced, could improve the pay and working conditions for Mexican workers.

The deal, which still awaits negotiations with Canada, the third member of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), has attracted guarded initial support from industry, key liberals in the US, and labor-rights groups in Mexico.

“The very fact that there’s a labor chapter in the text instead of a side agreement is an encouraging sign,” says Gladys Cisneros, program director in Mexico for the Solidarity Center, an international nonprofit promoting worker rights.

Guarded optimism

“We are optimistic that the new agreement will maintain and encourage the ongoing competitiveness of the United States and North American auto industries,” the American Automotive Policy Council (AAPC), a trade group representing the Big Three automakers, said in a statement.

“This is an important step forward,” said US Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) of Ohio, a key critic of the current NAFTA agreement, in a statement.  

But absent the text, which has not yet been released, they and others say it’s hard to pass judgment.

“We remain committed to working with the administration to get NAFTA right,” wrote United Autoworkers president Gary Jones and four other union leaders in a statement. “But, as always, the devil is in the details.”

 

Henry Romero/Reuters
Employees work at an Audi Q5 2.0 production line of the German car manufacturer’s plant in San Jose Chilapa, Mexico, in April. The US and Mexico announced a trade deal including provisions designed to boost the US-made content of cars assembled in Mexico. To cross the border duty-free, cars would need to have 75 percent US or Mexican content, and 40 to 45 percent of the car would have to be made by workers earning at least $16 an hour – far higher than typical Mexican wages.

For example: The provision that 40 to 45 percent of a car has to be made by workers earning at least $16 an hour to avoid US tariffs. On the face of things, that should mean workers in the US (and Canada, if it signs on to the deal) would be guaranteed a certain share of the work. (Mexican autoworkers on the factory floor make perhaps $6 an hour, Ms. Cisneros says.)  

What’s not clear is whether those workers have to be North American. Perhaps German workers earning more than $16 an hour would also fulfill the requirement. And even if they don’t, will foreign cars coming to the US via Mexico be subject to the current and minor 2.5 percent tariff or a more punishing surcharge that the Trump administration is considering on car imports?

Another unknown: the Mexican labor reforms. Between 70 and 90 percent of collective bargaining agreements registered in Mexico fall under the category of “employer protection unions,” Cisneros says. Typically, a “union” is set up and a contract negotiated before workers are ever hired, so they have no say in wages, hours of work, or other conditions. Critics say these unions are meant to ensure workers rights and labor standards are ignored.

The new trade agreement calls for those unions to be eliminated within four or five years. Instead, workers would be guaranteed the right to vote in secret for a union (so they can’t be retaliated against), forming bargaining units that would push for better pay and working conditions.

The new deal also addresses the plight of migrant workers who come from Mexico to the US on temporary work visas. An H-2 visa, for example, binds them to working for the company that sponsored them, making it hard to speak up if they are suffering labor abuse or their wages are withheld. Even if they do complain about abuses, the current NAFTA resolution process is flawed, says Elizabeth Mauldin, policy director for the Centro de los Derechos del Migrante Inc., which has offices in Mexico City and Baltimore. “There is no clear timeline or transparency. A worker’s complaint could languish for years on end without response.”

Of course, trade agreements can only force change on the margins because nations are reluctant to cede too much sovereignty over their own labor laws, says Gary Hufbauer, a trade expert at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington. “The real issue is not the promises, it's the enforcement of the promises. Who can bring a complaint? … How are these cases decided? ... What's the penalty?”

A moment for change

Still, some activists are heartened that, although the agreement could be signed by Mr. Peña Nieto, it would be administered by his more liberal successor, Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

“Right now is a historic moment,” says Marlene Solís, a labor expert at El Colegio de la Frontera Norte just outside of Tijuana. “We’re going to have a new government that ran on a [platform] of commitment to a new social vision and commitment to the people.” In addition, Mexican workers have slowly been making inroads during the past three decades in terms of standing up for their rights and forming their own unions, despite the many risks that come with that.

The new deal’s changes in some NAFTA provisions – such as the widely disliked protections for foreign investors – are likely to get broad support in Congress. But other changes – such as a reinstatement of buy-American clauses and whether and when the new agreement might sunset – could pit conservatives and liberals against each other.

“The Trump administration is trying to bridge the gap and give both sides something,” to win bipartisan support, says Simon Lester, a trade policy analyst of the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank in Washington. The thinking goes: “We'll keep these [investor] protections for the oil companies who really want it, and we'll take them mostly out for [Democratic Sen.] Elizabeth Warren and maybe she'll support NAFTA. It's difficult because every time you do something to please one you've annoyed the other.”
He says “I don't envy” the administration and the task before it.

Staff writer Mark Trumbull contributed to this story from Washington.

shadow

2. Cohen case: What does it really mean for President Trump?

How much legal jeopardy might President Trump be in after Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations? Why the answer isn’t very clear.

David

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 4 Min. )

All eyes were on President Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, as he pleaded guilty last week to arranging “hush money” payments for two women to cover up alleged extramarital affairs with Mr. Trump. Mr. Cohen told the judge he was working “under the direction and coordination” of candidate Trump, raising new questions about the president’s own legal jeopardy. But to make a case against Trump, prosecutors would have to advance an expansive interpretation of campaign finance law. Documents filed in the Cohen case show that Cohen was later paid back by Trump. And as a self-funded candidate, Trump was free to spend as much of his own money as he liked on his candidacy. At issue is whether the hush-money arrangement was a personal expense – which would not have to be reported to the Federal Election Commission – or was instead an effort to advance Trump’s candidacy, which must be reported. If the purpose was both personal and campaign related, experts say the underlying case may not be strong enough to support prosecution.

Collapse

Cohen case: What does it really mean for President Trump?

All eyes were on President Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, as he stood before a federal judge in New York last week and pleaded guilty to arranging “hush money” payments for two women to cover up extramarital affairs they’d allegedly had a decade ago with Mr. Trump. Mr. Cohen told the judge he was working “under the direction and coordination” of candidate Trump, and his accusation has raised new questions about Trump’s own vulnerability to ongoing investigations.

Q: Since Cohen admitted in open court that he violated campaign finance laws, does that mean that Trump must be guilty as well?

Not necessarily. To make a case against Trump, prosecutors would have to advance an interpretation of campaign finance law that is far more expansive than has been embraced by members of the Federal Election Commission (FEC). No federal jury has ever convicted anyone under such an expansive reading of campaign finance law, and election law experts are divided over the potential success of such an approach.

Q: Have prosecutors ever charged a candidate under similar circumstances?

In 2011, the Justice Department brought charges against former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards for allegedly receiving and spending nearly $1 million from two of his supporters to pay expenses to hide his mistress and their child from the public during the run-up to the 2008 election season. FEC officials did not view the Edwards arrangement as a campaign finance violation. Justice Department prosecutors disagreed and filed criminal charges.

Mr. Edwards’ attorney argued at trial that the payments were intended to hide the existence of the mistress and the baby from the candidate’s wife, who was dying of cancer. Ultimately, a jury acquitted Edwards of one charge and deadlocked on five others.

Q: Trump is caught on tape discussing possible payments to buy the silence of the two women who were alleging past affairs. Isn’t that the equivalent of a smoking gun?

Cohen pleaded guilty to helping to structure hush-money payments to the women, including a $130,000 payment to former adult film actress Stormy Daniels. The charge in Cohen’s case was that the $130,000 was an illegal campaign contribution by Cohen to Trump in excess of the $2,700 limit on individual contributions.

Federal documents filed in the Cohen case show that Cohen was later paid back by Trump. It was done through monthly checks identified as payments of a retainer to the lawyer.

Unlike the Edwards case, where two Edwards campaign contributors put up money to help hide the mistress and baby, Trump used his own funds to pay for the Daniels non-disclosure agreement. As a self-funded candidate, Trump was free to spend as much of his own money as he liked on his candidacy. So Trump’s payments to Cohen cannot be classified as campaign contributions under campaign finance law.

Q: Aren’t self-funding candidates required to disclose how they spend money to advance their candidacy?

Yes. This is likely where the rubber would meet the road in any charges against Trump of campaign finance violations. Trump did not disclose the hush money to the FEC. (Of course, this would have been self-defeating, since he wanted to keep the arrangement confidential.)

At issue, if such a case was brought, would be whether the hush-money arrangement was a personal expense – which would not have to be reported to the FEC – or was instead an effort to advance Trump’s candidacy, which must be reported.

News of alleged extramarital affairs with an adult film actress and a former Playboy model bursting into public view in the final weeks of the election might have destroyed the Trump candidacy.

But there were substantial personal reasons for the hush money as well. Regardless of its impact on the election, public disclosure could have undermined his marriage, subjected his young son and other family members to embarrassment, and sullied his trademark-protected corporate name.

If the purpose of the hush money was both personal and campaign-related, the underlying case may not be strong enough to support prosecution, according to some campaign finance experts.   

Q: Even if prosecutors can build a solid case implicating Trump in violations of campaign finance law, would they indict a sitting president and put him on trial?

Probably not. The Department of Justice has a decades-long policy against indicting a sitting president. It dates from the administration of President Richard Nixon in the 1970s, and has been maintained and upheld over the years. It is possible that the Justice Department could change its policy, but there is no indication that it is inclined to do so.

Q: If a sitting president won’t be charged with a crime, how can a president be held accountable for high crimes or other violations of the public trust? 

The Constitution provides for impeachment. A majority vote in the House of Representatives is the equivalent of returning an indictment. Conviction and removal from office requires the affirmative vote of two-thirds of the members of the US Senate. 

Given the prospect that Republicans appear likely to maintain their majority in the Senate in upcoming midterm elections, as a matter of basic math, even if a Democratic-controlled House voted to impeach Trump, his removal from office appears extremely remote.

shadow

3. Post-Harvey, Houston considers line between safety and sacrifice

When is it acceptable to sacrifice the few for the survival of the many? A year after tropical storm Harvey, some residents are challenging the decision to flood their communities to save downtown Houston.

David

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 5 Min. )

When home buyers purchase a home in a flood plain, they know that they run the risk of taking on water during rain events. But when Maria Ageyeva bought her home in Houston’s Lakes on Eldridge neighborhood, she had no idea that she was buying land in a flood pool. She learned that when tropical storm Harvey hit and the US Army Corps of Engineers allowed her neighborhood to become an extension of Addicks Reservoir to protect downtown Houston. Today, she is part of one of hundreds of lawsuits against the Army Corps over its management of Houston’s reservoirs during Harvey. The lawsuit centers on whether the government has the right to use private property in this way. But the situation raises a deeper question of whether it is acceptable to sacrifice one neighborhood for the sake of the broader community. For residents like Andrew Nat, the sacrifice makes some sense, but he adds, “I would hope that there would be some lessons learned.” 

Collapse

Post-Harvey, Houston considers line between safety and sacrifice

As the rains from tropical storm Harvey intensified last year, Marina Ageyeva stayed relatively calm. As the water crept up her driveway, she moved books and important papers into kitchen cupboards and to the second floor – and then she settled into a chair on the second floor and began reading Russian novels. 

She had lived in the house for six years, and it had never flooded, after all. Fifteen miles to the southeast, Andrew Nat had been in his home for 22 years and never flooded. They had grown to love life in their comfortable middle-class neighborhoods, with good schools and beautiful parks nearby. Both thought they would emerge largely unscathed. 

What they didn’t know was that they were living inside the flood pool for the Addicks and Barker reservoirs, which meant that, in the event of torrential rain, their neighborhood could be intentionally flooded to protect downtown Houston. So when Harvey’s deluge came, they were caught by surprise when their communities became extensions of the reservoir.

A year later, mostly due to issues with contractors repairing the damage, they’re both still living on their second floors. They’re also both part of one of hundreds of lawsuits against the US Army Corps of Engineers over its management of the reservoirs during Harvey.

The decision to flood these communities raises a deeper question of whether it is acceptable to sacrifice one neighborhood for the sake of the broader community. Communities around the United States may face similar quandaries, as intensified rain events become more common and cities expand and pave over natural floodplains.

Perhaps no area is more vulnerable to this rainfall-driven (pluvial) flooding than Houston, experts say, yet the region is far from a national leader in prevention. As other US cities have moved to mitigate the growing threats of urban flooding, residents here are demanding similar actions be taken. But after seeing their homes essentially sacrificed in order to prevent worse flooding downtown, some are wondering if they can afford to wait out the years it will likely take for the systemic overhaul they desire. 

“It’s an uncomfortable feeling,” says Ms. Ageyeva, who came to the US as a refugee from Russia in 1989. “I don’t feel scared, but I feel uncomfortable that it could happen again.” 

Concrete prairie, suburban reservoir 

Heavy rainfall has been pummeling the swamps of southeast Texas for centuries. The Katy prairie, west of present-day Houston, is one watershed that collects that water and funnels it, via more than a dozen tributaries, through Houston toward the Gulf of Mexico. So when a flood devastated Houston in 1935, the Katy prairie is where the Army Corps decided to build Addicks and Barker. Recently released documents have shown the agency didn’t purchase enough land behind the dams to fill their respective “flood pools” – the areas that would fill with rainwater held back by the dam. But back then it was all prairie anyway.

David J. Phillip/AP/File
Water from Addicks Reservoir flows into neighborhoods as floodwaters from tropical storm Harvey rise in Houston Aug. 29, 2017. Residents of flooded neighborhoods in the area are suing the US Army Corps of Engineers for using their homes as extensions of the city's reservoirs.

Fast-forward fifty years, and the prairie had turned into suburbia both around and – unbeknownst to many of the residents – inside the two reservoir flood pools. It would still take an unusually heavy deluge for water to reach those areas, however, the Army Corps reasoned at the time, according to an internal agency document obtained by the Houston Chronicle.

That deluge came with Harvey. As the reservoirs filled over a weekend of heavy rain the Army Corps began controlled releases from the reservoirs, but with huge volumes of water still flowing into the reservoirs from tributaries to the west, private homes in the flood pool took in water.

If the Army Corps hadn’t gone ahead with the releases, the results could have been much worse, officials say. Water could have crested the dam walls, or flowed uncontrolled around their edges, or broken through them. (A 2012 inspection found cracks in some of the dam’s spillways.)

“If they allowed water to go downtown and it killed [thousands of] people and caused thousands of dollars of damage – [preventing] that is a valid government decision,” says Daniel Charest, a co-lead attorney in a lawsuit representing property owners upstream of Addicks and Barker.

But if the government wants to own the decisions to both release water and hold back so much it flooded property it didn’t own, Mr. Charest and his clients argue, then it needs to compensate those whose properties were damaged.

“I suppose I understand there was a reason to release the water to save other properties within the city,” says Mr. Nat. “But whoever made the choice consciously decided to damage [other] properties.”

“I would hope that there would be some lessons learned,” he adds.

'A real wake-up call'

New gates were installed on the reservoirs in July – an upgrade planned before Harvey – and the Harris County Flood Control District has begun a $13 million project to dredge silt from waterways flowing into Addicks. On Saturday, on the one year anniversary of Harvey making landfall, 85 percent of voters in Harris County approved a $2.5 billion bond measure to finance more than 200 local flood-control projects. Bigger solutions, like building a third reservoir, could be years away, however.

Urban flooding is a growing issue in cities around the country. A study in February reported that about 13 percent of US residents are at risk from flooding – about three times the number estimated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which historically hasn’t studied pluvial flooding as closely. 

“One of the biggest threats facing this country, and a big issue we need to deal with, is urban flooding,” says Sam Brody, a professor of urban planning at Texas A&M University at Galveston.

“These are chronic problems all across America,” he adds. “Houston has been less vigilant at a regional level, but my hope is the event of hurricane Harvey has been a real wake-up call.”

For the love of home

Many residents learned they were in the Addicks and Barker flood pools during Harvey, but now that they know, many are still reluctant to leave.

Nat, a consultant for investors in the biotech and medical fields, describes living much of the past year on the second floor of his house as like being back in college. He and his wife eat out a lot, but when they don’t it’s food from a microwave or a toaster oven. 

He got a disaster loan from the US Small Business Administration, and he’s hoping he will be able to repay the loan with money from the lawsuit. If that doesn’t work out he plans to take out another lien on the house. He doesn’t see moving as an option.

“I think it’s a great neighborhood,” he says. “Once it’s rebuilt, four to five years down the line, the houses will have enhanced values.”

On Ageyeva’s street, three neighbors are selling their homes, but after fleeing Russia and then moving from New York to Houston she doesn’t think she could handle another move. Besides, she’s actually got to know her neighbors much better as they’ve recovered from Harvey together.

“Out of seven houses I only knew one neighbor, and now I know basically all of them,” she says. 

“I was not planning to stay in Houston [in 2012], but I fell in love,” she adds. “It’s my home.”

shadow

4. Nicaraguans flee their country, but not the fight

Activists fleeing their countries to escape violence often face a dilemma: choosing between their own safety and helping those back home. We look at some Nicaraguans who are doing both.

David
Juan Carlos Ulate/Reuters
People in San José, Costa Rica, rally in support of Nicaraguan protesters, who are opposing Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, on Aug. 11, at La Democracia Square. Some 200 Nicaraguans ask for asylum in Costa Rica every day, according to the United Nations.

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 5 Min. )

Clara’s first night in Costa Rica was spent in a makeshift shelter, sleeping on the floor next to 10 people she’d never met. All were Nicaraguan, and all were fleeing a government crackdown that has killed more than 400 people since April, when protests began over a proposed change to the country’s pension system. President Daniel Ortega was a Sandinista revolutionary who helped unseat dictator Anastasio Somoza in 1979. But today, after 11 years in office, his government has consolidated power and limited civil liberties. Since spring, violent attacks have subsided, but threats, arrests, and disappearances against people suspected of participating in the demonstrations have kicked up, keeping a steady flood of Nicaraguans, like Clara, leaving the country. But once they reach safety, many look for ways to contribute from afar: raising money and awareness, and helping those who have fled find their footing in foreign countries. “This is a fight I can’t leave behind,” says Clara, who is using a pseudonym for her family’s safety. “Everyone is contributing their grain of sand,” regardless of where they are.

Collapse

1. Nicaraguans flee their country, but not the fight

Clara and Jorge met manning community-run barricades in Nicaragua last spring, at the onset of anti-government protests. They had fled bullets from armed forces and jumped from one safe-house to the next, but neither imagined that just three months later they’d find themselves sitting in a fluorescent-lit food court in neighboring Costa Rica, waiting for refugee work permits.

Today, nervously laughing and sipping cappuccinos together in the city-center, the friends are unsure if – or when – they can return home. President Daniel Ortega, a Sandinista revolutionary who helped unseat dictator Anastasio Somoza in 1979, is under fire for crackdowns on civilian protests in Nicaragua. Human rights organizations estimate more than 400 people have died since protests began in mid-April. The government puts the death toll closer to 200, and calls the demonstrators terrorists angling for a coup.

“This is a fight I can’t leave behind,” says Clara, who decided this month that “the only way to protect myself and protect my family was to leave.” She and Jorge are using pseudonyms for the safety of their families in Nicaragua.

“Everyone is contributing their grain of sand,” regardless of where they are, says Clara. “One person is defending your rights while the other is feeding you, and the other is housing you.” She spent her first night here in a makeshift shelter, sleeping on the floor alongside 10 Nicaraguans she’d never met.

Tens of thousands of Nicaraguans have fled in recent months, continuing the exodus as violent attacks on street protests subside, and threats and disappearances kick up. Some 200 Nicaraguans ask for asylum in Costa Rica every day, according to the United Nations. Roughly 23,000 asylum interviews were scheduled in Costa Rica between April and Aug. 1. Others are fleeing to the United States, Panama, and Mexico.

Among the exiles are students, doctors, journalists, and others on government radar for their involvement – direct or tangential – in the protests. Today, they’re seeking ways to restore peace and build a more democratic country from beyond Nicaragua’s borders. That means countering misinformation, raising money and sending medical supplies back home, and helping those who have fled find their footing in foreign countries.

“We know that the most important work is still being done within Nicaragua,” says Julio Martínez Ellsberg, an adviser to the University Coalition for Democracy and Justice, the central student movement. He came to the US to visit family for a week in July, but his trip quickly snowballed into a month and counting after he did an on-air debate about the conflict with a US-based news outlet. Friends and family questioned whether he should return home right away; he’s now navigating his next move.

“There is some benefit” to having Nicaraguans involved in the anti-government protests abroad, he says. “The government is putting a lot of time and dedication into their international communications. They have a pretty solid strategy and they’ll say ‘This is all over. You can look away now,’ ” says Mr. Martinez, who is also part of the Platform for Social Movements, a coalition that came together after the crisis began.

Those who have left the country under threat or violent repression “are the first ones able to counter that,” he says.

Getting the word out

That’s certainly been the case in Costa Rica. Celso Cruz, a Nicaraguan who migrated to San Jose in the 1980s, has been lending a hand to recently arrived Nicaraguans like Jorge and Clara.

“These are really brave kids,” he says. “I’d like to have 10 percent of the bravery they have standing up to the government. They want a change in the country.”

This spring’s uprising erupted when a group of university students took to the streets to peacefully protest a proposed change to the nation’s pension system. Deadly repression of the protests spurred widespread calls for Mr. Ortega to step down after 11 years in office, during which time his government has cracked down on civil liberties and consolidated power. Although resistance organizers are emphasizing peaceful protests – whether via marches or neighborhood barricades – some individuals have armed themselves with weapons such as molotov cocktails.

Nicaraguans have a decades-long history of migrating south to Costa Rica, seeking sanctuary from repression, violence, and economic hardship. Today, it has a robust community of Nicaraguans, like Mr. Cruz, ready to support recent arrivals with shelter, food, and employment. A handful of groups thanked the Costa Rican government and citizens this week for their welcome and support.

Historically, the US has played this critical role in helping Latin American exiles raise awareness and funds for human rights crises in the region. The social movements fighting Augusto Pinochet in Chile and Somoza in Nicaragua made important inroads via nationals lecturing at US universities, or appealing to nongovernmental organizations in the United States, experts say.

“With the rejection of Temporary Protected Status [for Nicaraguans in 2017], and our restrictions on immigration, many won’t be able to get to the US and tap that as a way to reach US media and policymakers and inform US citizens as to what’s going on, or to gain resources,” says Christopher Sabatini, a Latin American specialist at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.

Some say scaring activists and students out of the country helps the government above all.

“There are a lot of collateral benefits for Ortega’s government [in that] the majority of people that leave oppose him,” says Roberto Solórzano, the president of Asociación Nicaragüense Pro Derechos Humanos, a human rights group. “It’s one less problem the government has to deal with” at home.

Mr. Solórzano left Nicaragua for a family matter earlier this month, but his staff has encouraged him to remain abroad. He and many colleagues in the US and Costa Rica continue to collect reports on protest-related deaths, relying on a network of volunteers to verify information on the ground.

“The international community has to find a way to stop this any way possible, and that’s only manageable with people working for this cause outside [of Nicaragua]. There’s no more blood to give,” he says.

For those still organizing and protesting inside Nicaragua, there’s a deep understanding of why others decide to leave.

“Many of our friends can’t leave home out of fear of imprisonment or being disappeared,” says Enrieth Martínez, a student leader still working in Nicaragua.

Collaborating with peers who have left the country is challenging because of the distance, but in many ways it’s the reality of organizing within Nicaragua, too, Ms. Martínez says. So many protesters are holed up in safe houses or are constantly moving to avoid being arrested or kidnapped that working remotely has become regular. A lot of organizing and information sharing is done via WhatsApp and other secure chat groups. After a collaborator, Irlanda Jerez, was taken following a press conference in July, student organizers now take precautions like recording statements in advance instead of holding events live.

“The work from afar is complicated, but we understand. We put the security of a person first,” says Martínez. But it’s “important that youth leaving Nicaragua keep fighting in other ways. We are the generation that can create a big change in our country. Our voice is vital for the future.”

shadow

5. Finding work – and purpose – in Rust Belt Ohio

This next story takes us through an inspiring program in Ohio that's helping opioid addicts get clean and get a job. A quote from a former addict stuck with me: “What a lot of people don’t understand is when you get addicted, you’re searching for something.”

David
Christa Case Bryant/The Christian Science Monitor
Jay Hymes (r.), who took Flying High’s welding class and is now an instructor for the nonprofit, works with a student trying to load a wire. He loves that people are depending on him now.

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 3 Min. )

The population of Youngstown, Ohio, has shrunk dramatically since its steel mills shut down in the 1970s. It now ranks as the most economically distressed city of its size in the United States. And the opioid crisis is acute here. But Jeffrey Magada is one person who is trying to give some residents a renewed sense of purpose – and a job. He founded the nonprofit Flying High, which in 2016 expanded its operations thanks to a $4 million grant from the US Department of Labor. Flying High offers a 15-week welding class in addition to job training programs in nursing and chemical dependency counseling – as well as sober living and supplemental activities, including a “purpose” class. Of those who started training, 89 percent have completed it, and of those who completed training, 8 in 10 are currently employed. One of these people is Mike Oates, who has a job at Columbiana Boiler Co. Mr. Magada is “actually making a difference in Youngstown,” says the recent Flying High graduate. “There’s a very dark shadow over that city, and he’s a shining light in it.”

Collapse

Finding work – and purpose – in Rust Belt Ohio

Mike Oates’s life was tracing the same downward trajectory of so many ensnared in the opioid crisis. Then it dramatically changed course for the better.

As Mr. Oates tells it, he hurt his back in a steel mill and got addicted to the opioids he was prescribed. A felonious assault charge landed him in prison, where he underwent a major transformation.

“What a lot of people don’t understand is when you get addicted, you’re searching for something,” Oates says.

One person who does understand that is Jeffrey Magada, a Youngstown, Ohio, native who says he, too, could have ended up on the wrong track if he hadn’t turned his life over to God. So he founded Flying High, a nonprofit that helps individuals find renewed purpose – and a job.

“He’s actually making a difference in Youngstown,” says Oates, who graduated from Flying High’s inaugural welding class in January and now has a job at Columbiana Boiler Co. half an hour away. “There’s a very dark shadow over that city, and he’s a shining light in it.”

Youngstown, whose population has shrunk dramatically since its steel mills shut down in the 1970s, ranks as the most economically distressed city of its size in the United States. In the neighborhood where Flying High offers its welding classes, the median price for a home is $26,593.

The nonprofit, which started in 1994, expanded its operations in 2016 thanks to a $4 million grant from the US Department of Labor. It now offers a 15-week welding class in addition to job training programs in nursing and chemical dependency counseling – as well as sober living and supplemental activities, including a “purpose” class.

Mr. Magada says the program’s holistic approach sets it apart from initiatives that tackle a single challenge, such as alcohol dependency, independent of related issues like lack of job skills. Nearly 300 participants have enrolled over the past two years. Of those who started training, 89 percent have completed it, and of those who completed training, 8 in 10 are currently employed.

“Where our program is unique, is it helps them bridge that gap,” Magada says. “Our mission has always been to develop potential and to help people discover their destiny.”

No more scraping by

Jay Hymes, who lived in this neighborhood during the crack epidemic of the 1980s and early ’90s, has been shot multiple times and incarcerated twice.

When he got out in 2006, he scraped together a living – cutting hair, cutting grass, whatever work he could find – until he found Magada’s nonprofit.

“Sometimes people just need a little extra help, and that’s what Flying High does,” says Mr. Hymes, who graduated with Oates in January. “This was my first time ever graduating from anything.”

Flying High then asked Hymes to come on as a welding instructor, a job he loves.

“People are depending on me to do something positive,” he says during a break from training a class. “My whole family ... [is] ecstatic that I’m a teacher now.”

One of his students is Rontrell White, who met Magada as a child. His mother was receiving food assistance. Determined to make it on his own, he got involved with a gang and began selling drugs.

Seeing them soar

“[Magada] could have given up many, many years ago,” says Mr. White, who was sentenced to three years in prison for involuntary manslaughter and recently got out of prison.

As trainees like White reach the midpoint of their courses, Flying High’s job developer, Dave Knickerbocker, starts helping them look for work. He has built a coalition of more than a dozen local employers who will consider applicants from the training programs.

The nonprofit pays a portion of its graduates’ salaries for the first six months and visits them on the job at least monthly to ensure that the arrangement is fruitful for both employer and employee.

“You get the right fit, and it’s just great to see them soar,” Mr. Knickerbocker says.

Michael Sherwin, Columbiana Boiler’s chief executive officer, says Oates has been “a great find.” The former steelworker gets up at 4:30 a.m. to put in 10-hour shifts and regain financial stability. But he has a higher vision for his life, thanks to what he describes as the transforming power of God’s love.

“My purpose in going to prison was to get right with Him,” he says. “Now my purpose is to help everyone I can.”

shadow

The Monitor's View

Argentina tries breaking corrupt habits

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 2 Min. )

Perhaps never before has Argentina been so focused on one of its oldest issues – corruption. Since a new president was elected in 2015, the South American nation has made a few reforms toward clean governance. But a big breakthrough came in early August. A newspaper revealed evidence of illegal payments from businesspeople to former government leaders. One prosecutor claims a total of $160 million in cash was delivered between 2005 and 2015. A number of people have been arrested. But just as important, the public mood is shifting, argues Laura Alonso, the head of Argentina’s national anti-corruption office. The people are “ready and hungry for a different and effective recipe for individual and national progress,” she says. One sign of progress: Argentina has made a swift and upward advance in a global ranking of countries on levels of corruption. With an election set for late 2019, the Argentine people will have an opportunity to elect leaders committed to clean government. And if these latest revelations result in successful prosecution of powerful figures, it could set an example for other countries also fighting the scourge of corruption.

Collapse

Argentina tries breaking corrupt habits

Many countries can only wish for such progress. Since 2015, when Argentina elected a new reform-minded president, it has made a swift and upward advance in the Corruption Perceptions Index, a world ranking compiled by the group Transparency International. Not bad for a country whose history of kleptocracy was made famous in the 1990s by a Broadway musical and world-hit movie, “Evita.”

But don’t smile for Argentina quite yet. The country still remains below average in the global ranking. And the limited reforms started by President Mauricio Macri have only begun to stem the systemic corruption that has long burdened one of South America’s wealthiest nations.

A big breakthrough came in early August. The respected La Nacion newspaper published revelations from “notebooks” kept for years by a chauffeur for a senior official tracking illegal payments from businesspeople to top government leaders. The most powerful recipients, according to the documents, were the former president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (CFK), and her deceased predecessor and husband, Néstor Kirchner. One prosecutor claims a total of $160 million in cash was delivered between 2005 and 2015.

Authorities have arrested a number of business leaders and officials. Several of those have agreed to testify about the illegal payments in exchange for leniency. Serious corruption has long been rumored and occasionally revealed. Prosecuting such crimes has been slow because of a weak judicial system and a tolerance of a certain level of corruption.

The way in which the latest court cases unfold will help set the rules for future practices. They can help Argentina move away from crony capitalism. But just as important, the public mood is shifting, argues Laura Alonso, the head of Argentina’s national anti-corruption office. The people are “ready and hungry for a different and effective recipe for individual and national progress,” she wrote recently in the Americas Quarterly. On the other hand, CFK still retains around 30 percent support in the polls and is expected to run for president next year despite the corruption allegations, which she says are politically motivated.

With presidential and national elections set for October 2019, the Argentines have an opportunity to elect individuals committed to clean government and best-practice economic policies. So far, President Macri is taking the high road on the corruption cases, supporting thorough investigations that pursue the guilty in a transparent and equitable manner. He will be tested as elections approach, and he may feel the need to offset public unhappiness with Argentina’s struggling economy, as well as with the way he treats corruption that touches businesspeople with whom he has ties. From a political perspective, Macri stands to benefit if the investigations continue to reveal past corruption but do not put CFK into the role of a martyr before the elections.

Progress in turning the new corruption revelations into successful prosecutions and cleaner government will benefit not only Argentina. Other countries fighting the scourge of corruption might learn from its example.

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.

Refuge

  • Quick Read
  • Read or Listen ( 1 Min. )

“I was in need of the harbor – the calm just beyond the breakwater, a refuge.” These words are the opening lines of today’s poem, which deals with finding God’s guidance and comfort during those moments in life when we most deeply need them.

Collapse

Refuge

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

I was in need of the harbor –
   the calm just beyond the breakwater,
      a refuge.
Yes, the worst of the storm had passed,
   and yet the waves threatened still,
   pushed on from somewhere far off shore.
I could hold on. I knew this
   in my heart.
But the safe approach must be soon
   … and close.
   So, I prayed once more.
And then I saw – what was it?
   A point of light?
   Small at first, but there…
   I saw it.
Through the dark and windspray, it showed me: home.
The embrace of Love, patient, waiting, open…
   And all came quiet now.
I held fast to the promise of this beaconed shelter –
   by the grace of God –
   and the fear let go, the pain lifted.
Peace, comfort, even joy broke through.
Healed.

The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.
 – Deuteronomy 33:27

Poem originally published in the January 2018 issue of The Christian Science Journal.

shadow

Viewfinder

Making room for prayers

Ronen Zvulun/Reuters
Workers remove prayer notes from cracks at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City on Aug. 28, ahead of Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year that will be celebrated Sept. 9-11. More than a million notes annually are placed in the wall. They are collected twice during the year and buried in a religious repository on the nearby Mount of Olives.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris and Jacob Turcotte. )
shadow

In Our Next Issue

( August 29th, 2018 )

David Clark Scott
Editor & product manager

Thanks for joining us. Come back tomorrow: We’re working on a story about why the first Afghan woman to climb her nation’s highest peak reached so much more than a mountaineering milestone.

Monitor Daily Podcast

August 28, 2018
Loading the player...

More issues

2018
August
28
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.