2018
September
06
Thursday

Today brings many fresh starts: It’s the first day of school here in Boston, and kids celebrated a new year with freshly sharpened pencils and three-ring binders, ready to be filled.

In India, the high court struck down a 150-year-old law that criminalized same-sex relationships, specifically citing the need for laws that include everyone. (Our Africa correspondent, Ryan Lenora Brown, has written about similar efforts by LGBTQ activists to strike down colonial laws in Kenya.)

“The ideals and objectives enshrined in our benevolent Constitution can be achieved only when each and every individual is empowered and enabled to participate in the social mainstream and in the journey towards achieving equality in all spheres...,” the Supreme Court of India wrote. “All human beings possess the equal right to be themselves....”

In another vote for inclusion, British astronomer Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell was awarded the Breakthrough Prize for her work on the discovery of pulsars. Professor Bell Burnell says she first spotted them because she was grappling with “imposter syndrome” – the idea that she didn’t belong – as a student at Cambridge University in 1974, and as a result was working as hard as she could not to get expelled. Her male professor initially dismissed her findings as radio waves. He was awarded the Nobel Prize; Bell Burnell’s name was left off.

She’s giving the $3 million away to help minorities, women, and other underrepresented groups in the field of physics break through themselves.

“So I have this hunch that minority folks bring a fresh angle on a lot of things and that is often a very productive thing,” Bell Burnell told the BBC. “In general, a lot of breakthroughs come from left field.”

Now for our five stories of the day.

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1. White House ‘resistance’: act of protection, or unadvisable ‘soft coup’?

The release of a scathing opinion piece from an anonymous White House staffer has set the nation’s political gossip mill into full gear. But the bigger question is what the report might mean for America.

Yvonne

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“Who wrote it?” That’s the first question many people ask about the anonymous New York Times opinion piece, published on Wednesday, in which a senior administration official outlines a “quiet resistance movement” among President Trump’s own staffers. But another query – “Is this right?” – might be more important in this case. Whatever one thinks of Mr. Trump’s policies, he is the president of the United States, duly elected by voters under a process outlined in the Constitution. With the exception of Vice President Mike Pence, the officials of Trump’s administration were not. In any White House, a president is not a potentate. Cabinet members have their own agenda. Senior officials can delay policy debates, offer option lists that highlight their preferred course of action, and slow-roll implementation. That’s normal. But stealing papers off the president’s desk so he won’t sign them, as outlined in Bob Woodward’s upcoming book? That’s not normal at all. Trump’s critics think internal resistance to a chief executive they consider arbitrary, uninformed, and capricious may be the best thing for America. But Trump supporters question whether such resistance is a low-level, slow-rolling, soft coup.

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White House ‘resistance’: act of protection, or unadvisable ‘soft coup’?

After The New York Times published an anonymous opinion piece from a “senior administration official” outlining an alleged quiet resistance to President Trump among his own top advisors, the first question that rattled through Washington’s political world was, “Who wrote it?”

But perhaps the more important query, one that gradually dawned on many after gleefully chewing over possible authors, might be this: “What’s going on here? Are these people really doing the right thing?” 

The op-ed article by an unnamed Trump staffer asserted that a loose team of “unsung heroes” who believe Mr. Trump to be dangerously unstable are secretly working to block the president’s “worst inclinations.” Combined with revelations from Bob Woodward’s upcoming book on the administration, “Fear,” an extraordinary portrait is emerging of a president hemmed in by his own handlers, unaware when some of his orders are ignored, changed, or delayed.

On its face, the op-ed seems to be an attempt to reassure voters who may be concerned about Trump’s impulses. But the anonymity of the writer raises credibility questions. What’s the real motive? Why not go public? Won’t revealing this effort, if it truly exists, infuriate the president and defeat its purpose? 

And if there really is an anti-Trump resistance in top levels of the administration itself, is that anti-democratic as well? After all, Trump faced the voters and was elected president under the rules established by the US Constitution. All other top officials in his administration, with the exception of Vice President Mike Pence, were not.

“Soft coup” is not the phrase to use to describe the current situation, says Elizabeth Saunders, an associate professor in the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. But it’s definitely not normal pushback by presidential advisors, either.

“It’s definitely something we don’t have a name for.... The larger point is, this is not the way things are supposed to work,” says Professor Saunders.

Complementary narratives

The op-ed, published Wednesday, was submitted to the Times prior to the first appearance of stories detailing similar revelations in Mr. Woodward’s upcoming book, according to editors. That means its appearance in conjunction with the publicity attracted by “Fear” may be a coincidence. But if that’s the case, it’s one the author probably does not regret, as the opinion piece and the book reflect and in some cases amplify each other’s themes. 

The author of the opinion piece says he or she shares some of Trump’s goals, and feels that in tax reform, deregulation, and military spending, the administration has not gotten enough credit for positive moves. But after that, it’s brutal, calling the president “amoral,” “erratic,” and “reckless.”

“Meetings with him veer off topic and off the rails,” the author writes.

The piece is a little vague about what specific actions the alleged internal Trump resistance is taking to head off dangerous presidential action. But the writer does describe a “two-track presidency,” in which Trump may communicate one policy in public, but officials pursue another offstage. The example the article uses is Russia, where the president has treated Russian president Vladimir Putin with deference, but US actions in the wake of the poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain have included sanctions and diplomatic expulsions.

Why write all this anonymously? If your purpose is to affect policy and change presidential behavior, a public complaint and resignation on the part of a high official might seem more effective. Anonymity, in effect, allows the writer to position him or herself as an anti-Trumper for post administration purposes, when all can be revealed, while remaining in office for now.

After all, an anonymous outline of an inside anti-Trump effort plays right into stereotypes of the “deep state” of bureaucratic lifers who are supposedly organizing against the presidency. The author is clearly sensitive to this, saying that the efforts are the work of a “steady state” instead. 

The problem is a sizable portion of the public, which disproportionately supports Trump, truly believes a “deep state” exists. That is the backdrop against which the present crisis occurs, making it different from past instances of alleged presidential incompetence or disability, according to University of Virginia historian Brian Balogh, co-host of the BackStory history podcast.

“Whatever the intentions of the anonymous NYT op-ed writer(s), the consequence will be to reinforce the beliefs of those who subscribe to such conspiracies,” writes Professor Balogh in an emailed response to questions. 

Infighting? Or something more?

Such conspiratorial views are already a huge problem for effective governance, according to Balogh. “The anonymous op-ed will simply exacerbate the problem,” he writes.

To be fair to the anonymous author, many Republican members of Congress complain privately about the president’s demeanor and lack of interest in details, yet it is mostly only retiring lawmakers who seem willing to criticize him in public. In addition, presidents often face pushback from advisors who have differing ideas about where policy should go. Manipulating information before it gets to the Oval Office desk is one of the great sports of top-level executive branch officials. The best trick: make sure your preferred option is in the middle of a three-choice list. It’s natural to discard numbers one and three as the extremes.

But the quiet resistance seems to have gone far beyond infighting over options. The most extraordinary detail so far – from Woodward’s “Fear,” not the op-ed – is that former top economic advisor Gary Cohn stole a letter off Trump’s desk that the president was intending to sign to formally withdraw the US from a trade treaty with South Korea. Mr. Cohn told associates the move was a terrible idea, and he removed the paper to protect national security. Trump never noticed the paper was missing, writes Woodward, and the United States remains in the pact.

Aides typically have many opportunities to weigh in prior to presidential decisions on issues, says Saunders, who studies presidential leadership and decisionmaking, particularly in foreign relations. But after the chief executive says he wants to do “X,” that’s usually it. Thus retrieving the trade letter at that point was highly unusual.

“That to me is different. It is really changing things after the fact,” she says. 

Woodward and others have used the phrase “administrative coup” to describe the overall situation. But “coup” is a loaded word that doesn’t really apply in this situation, claim experts. It refers to an attempt to change executive personnel or the regime itself, wrote Naunihal Singh, an expert in coups who teaches at the Naval War College, in a Twitter thread widely shared among political scientists on Wednesday.

But it is far from garden variety bureaucratic behavior, either. Nor is Trump’s lack of follow-up on the South Korea decision document. Woodward published the actual letter, showing what Cohn had stolen back. Trade is one of the issues about which Trump feels strongly, so you’d think he might have asked what had happened in this instance. 

“It’s pretty telling about his inability to oversee this process,” says Saunders.

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2. With parking-lot shooting, Florida ‘stand your ground’ law takes the stand

When is it acceptable for one citizen to take the life of another? That question has erupted anew as Floridians grapple with what constraints, if any, should be placed on the use of force in self-defense.

Yvonne
Luis Santana/Tampa Bay Times/AP
Michael McGlockton (r.) wipes the face of his 5-year-old grandson, Markeis, as protesters gather in Clearwater, Fla., July 22. The boy’s father, Markeis McGlockton, had been shot and killed in a dispute over a parking space in Clearwater’s Greenwood neighborhood three days earlier.

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Florida is once again at the epicenter of a national debate around so-called stand your ground laws. The arrest of Michael Drejka for shooting and killing Markeis McGlockton in a Clearwater parking lot suggests that the state that pioneered “stand your ground” protections for individuals employing deadly force in self-defense may be starting to sketch some parameters around the law. Mr. Drejka has maintained that he feared for his life and had acted within what he understood to be the constraints of the law. The local sheriff agreed and declined to arrest Drejka in the immediate wake of the shooting. The state attorney disagreed, however, filing manslaughter charges on Aug. 13. Drejka pleaded not guilty. Residents are still wrestling not just with the proximity, but the complexity of the shooting – and what it means for how Floridians behave toward each other. In the eyes of one local gun salesman, even a well-meaning law that supports gun rights should be reconsidered if it begins to reinforce vigilantism. “When they issued my concealed-carry permit,” he says, “I’m pretty sure it didn’t come with a cape.”

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With parking-lot shooting, Florida ‘stand your ground’ law takes the stand

Dan Drake looked up in alarm on July 19 when he heard the gunshots from the direction of the Circle A Food Store, where his teenage daughter had headed by foot. He relaxed slightly when she came running back down the sidewalk. Someone just got shot up on the corner, she said.

Mr. Drake thought it was a gang shooting – not unheard of in this Clearwater, Fla., neighborhood known as Greenwood. He then heard that a black man he knew by sight, Markeis McGlockton, had been shot and killed by an older white man, Michael Drejka, over a parking space argument. Mr. McGlockton was killed after pushing Mr. Drejka, who had confronted McGlockton’s girlfriend about parking in a handicapped spot.

“Markeis acted like any man would, protecting his family, and for that he was killed,” says Drake, who is black. “I don’t care about race. If you have the loaded gun in your pocket, you’re looking for trouble.”

For his part, Drejka has told local reporters that he feared for his life and acted within what he understood to be the constraints of the law.

The local sheriff initially agreed with Drejka. Under the state’s so-called stand your ground law, the sheriff said, Drejka’s role in instigating the conflict didn’t matter if he felt that the shove suggested a reasonable threat to his life.

The state attorney disagreed, however, filing manslaughter charges on Aug. 13. Drejka pleaded not guilty.

Five years after George Zimmerman was acquitted after killing an unarmed black teenager named Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla., the state that pioneered the “stand your ground” law is still grappling with what constraints, if any, should be placed on the use of force in self-defense.

The law takes away any duty to retreat from danger, allowing Floridians to respond with deadly force to a reasonable threat. Proponents say stand your ground has made Florida safer by empowering law-abiding gun owners, citing a dramatic dip in the violent crime rate since 1997.

But experts point out that drop began several years before the law passed in 2005, and matches a two-decade decline in violent crime across the United States. And they say law has emboldened vigilantes – many of whom have been middle-aged white men. Ahead of a bellwether election that will likely focus on criminal justice inequities in the criminal justice system, the McGlockton killing has only hardened racial and class tensions, mirroring closely the nation as a whole. 

In that way, the aftermath of what happened here on this Clearwater corner, experts say, may proffer larger lessons for a country on edge by giving a sympathetic glimpse into the humanity of victims and increased clarity on when self-defense can and cannot be legally justified.

The Circle A shooting shows how “stand-your-ground is a wink-and-a-nod law, open to interpretation,” says Harvard University historian Caroline Light, author of “Stand Your Ground: A History of America’s Love Affair With Lethal Self-defense.” “People like Drejka, they are paying attention to what is happening – the outcome of the Zimmerman case, to all the other cases – and it is showing them that there’s a pattern by which certain kinds of vigilante acts are going to get excused.”

The roots of stand your ground

The fundamentals of the law are not shaded by race. English common law underscores the duty of people to retreat until retreat is no longer possible. Several New England states still embody that standard. But Western and Southern states, by character, nature, and necessity, have historically embraced a different standard that by the 1930s had been written into common law in most states, writes Richard Maxwell Brown in “No Duty to Retreat: Violence and Values in American History and Society.”

United States Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes used the phrase “stand your ground” in explaining a “reasonable belief” standard for justifiable homicide. Holmes memorably noted that “detached reflection cannot be demanded in the presence of an uplifted knife.”

In 2005, Florida became the first state to enshrine the right to use deadly force in self-defense, even when retreat is possible. More than two dozen states have since passed similar legislation.

The Florida legislature beefed up stand our ground last year, which likely contributed to the the Pinellas sheriff's initial decision not to charge Drejka.

The legislature “shifted the burden of proof in a pre-trial hearing from the defense to the prosecution,” explains Charles Rose, a law professor at Stetson University in Gulfport, Fla. “That leaves the possibility that if you indict someone and it doesn’t hold up during the hearing, then you may be facing an allegation of false imprisonment by the individual who was asserting stand your ground.”

To critics, that shifts the reasonableness standard too far, creating a special class of armed citizen vigilantes who have more rights than their victims. That concern is heightened in a state where 1 out of 15 residents have a concealed-carry permit, the largest proportion in the US.

“People are emboldened – they know they have this right under Florida law to shoot first and ask questions later – and it is a deadly combination,” says Laura Cutilletta, the legal director for the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence in San Francisco.

She points out that last year the Urban Institute found that when a shooter is white and the victim is black, the homicide is 281 percent more likely to be found justified than if the roles are reversed. “So,” she concludes, “the way the law is structured in Florida – and it is not alone in this – it is really skewed in favor of someone walking around with a loaded gun. Add prosecutorial and jury biases and it favors white people that are armed.”

An American microcosm?

The Circle A Food Store sits on a national faultline – a suburban crossroads perched atop the glimmer of Old Clearwater Bay. Mere blocks, according to Zillow, separate $350,000 stucco ranches from similar square footage homes that sell for $80,000 in Greenwood. Yet people of all races frequent the Circle A.

This is where a memorial marks McGlockton’s death, next to an overflowing dumpster. The neighborhood is smack in the middle of the 10-county Tampa Bay media market, the largest in Florida, containing 24 percent of the electorate.

Residents are still wrestling not just with the proximity, but the complexity of the shooting – and what it means for how Floridians behave toward each other.

Patrik Jonsson
Tommy Collins speaks about the shooting of Markeis McGlockton in Clearwater, Fla.

One resident, a wiry YouTuber and marketing guru named Tommy Collins, has lived all over the world – from Alabama to Abu Dhabi – and sees an American microcosm here in the Florida burbs and its racial boundaries, overlaid with “rage and edginess.”

Watching a video of the shooting, he had a flurry of sympathy for Drejka.

In part, he understands how someone can feel threatened. “It was a hard push, but it also seemed the other guy saw the gun and was stepping back.”

And he acknowledges that race simmers below the surface. “You won’t hear the N-word with three people in the room, but you will with two,” he says.

“I just think about if it was in reverse,” Mr. Collins says. “If a black man kills a white man after harassing the man’s family, does he walk away?”

The flaw in the law, critics say, may not be that it empowers a particular group of people like gun owners – but that it makes everyone more susceptible to making deadly mistakes.

“The problem is it flows into implicit bias issues” that don’t always fall along racial lines, says Professor Rose. “Implicit bias is what people rely on to make snap judgment decisions when they feel threatened. You don’t want laws that play into and support the biases that exist in all of us, because it is too easy for those to be misapplied.”

Whether Drejka will be convicted hangs over a state that is already seeing racial tensions rising, says University of Florida emeritus professor Susan MacManus, an expert on Florida politics.

Democrat Andrew Gillum, a former Tallahassee mayor who is black, is now set to take on Rep. Ron DeSantis, a fervently pro-Trump Republican, for the governorship. Mr. DeSantis caught flak for his suggestion that Mr. Gillum would “monkey this up,” meaning the strong Florida economy. Monkey references have deep historical roots and are widely considered racial coding. DeSantis called that idea “absurd,” though Fox News apologized for the reference after the interview. And last week, a robocall of someone pretending to be Gillum featuring minstrel language and jungle sounds was sent out by a neo-Nazi podcast.

In that light, the nomination of Gillum and his promise to reform stand your ground will “remind voters who have been concerned for years about racial inequities in the criminal justice system to get out and vote,” says Professor MacManus. “Remember, Florida is a bellwether in large part because its racial and ethnic diversity mirrors the country.”

Across from the Circle A is Cole’s Gun Shop, where a rough concrete block exterior gives way to a neat showroom of weaponry. Rocco, one of the salesmen, says his shop did not sell Drejka his gun.

He represents a key demographic in a state beholden to the influence of the National Rifle Association. But instead of supporting his fellow gun owner, he fully supports the arrest and prosecution of Drejka. He isn’t sure the law needs to be changed, but hopes the trial will clarify its limits. Force, he says, has to be commensurate with the threat.

If even a well-meaning law that supports gun rights begins to reinforce vigilantism, it should be reevaluated, he says. 

“When they issued my concealed-carry permit,” he says, “I’m pretty sure it didn’t come with a cape.”

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3. His value to Mueller probe less clear, Papadopoulos faces the judge

Former campaign aide George Papadopoulos was once seen as a linchpin in the Trump-Russia investigation, someone who could potentially bring down the president. But as he prepares to be sentenced Friday, a more nuanced picture of his role is emerging.

Yvonne

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On Friday, former Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos will face sentencing after pleading guilty last year to one count of making a false statement to FBI agents. It will close one small chapter in what has become a sprawling investigation into alleged collusion with Russia and obstruction of justice involving President Trump and members of his campaign. Many legal analysts had speculated that Mr. Papadopoulos could be the linchpin that would lead to the president’s downfall, after it was revealed that a London-based professor had told him Russia had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. Papadopoulos lied to federal agents about when he’d been told that tantalizing bit of information, insisting that it was before he joined the Trump campaign, rather than when he was already working as a foreign-policy adviser to the campaign. Now, however, a more nuanced picture of Papadopoulos’s role is starting to emerge. It appears he was not a covert operator at the center of any Trump-Russia conspiracy. And prosecutors are emphasizing to the judge that he did not provide “substantial assistance” to investigators. “It doesn’t sound like he is going to be an explosive witness,” says former federal prosecutor Gene Rossi.

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His value to Mueller probe less clear, Papadopoulos faces the judge

It wasn’t the breakfast meeting in London with a mysterious Maltese professor in April 2016 that snared Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos.

What got him into trouble with Trump-Russia investigators were his less-than-candid answers to questions they posed to him nine months later – shortly after Donald Trump became president of the United States.

Mr. Papadopoulos told the truth when he relayed to federal agents that the London-based professor, Joseph Mifsud, had revealed to him that Russia had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. But Papadopoulos lied about when he’d been told that tantalizing bit of information. He insisted – at least a dozen times – that Professor Mifsud revealed it in February, before Papadopoulos joined the Trump campaign, rather than in late April, when he was already working as a foreign-policy adviser to the campaign.

That deception gave significant momentum to a theory of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russians intent on meddling in the 2016 election. If members of the Trump team knew in advance that Russia possessed stolen emails, and the Trump campaign helped coordinate the public release of those emails in the months prior to the election, that would amount to an illegal conspiracy to undermine a presidential election.

That was the crime Robert Mueller was appointed special counsel to investigate, and many legal analysts speculated that Papadopoulos could ultimately prove to be the linchpin that would lead to President Trump’s downfall.

Now, 19 months into the Trump administration, a more nuanced picture of Papadoloulos’s role and significance to the investigation is starting to emerge. It appears Papadopoulos was not a covert operator at the center of any Trump-Russia conspiracy. His lawyers argue he was merely an ambitious young analyst swept up into something he didn’t fully comprehend. And prosecutors are emphasizing to the judge in his case that he did not provide “substantial assistance” to Trump-Russia investigators. It remains unclear what evidence Papadopoulos ultimately provided to federal agents – but it appears at this point to have little, if anything, to do with Russians and stolen emails.

Alexandria Sheriff's Office/Reuters/File
Former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos is seen in a booking mugshot taken by the Alexandria Sheriff's Office as he was booked into the Alexandria Detention Center in Alexandria, Va., July 28, 2017.

“It doesn’t sound like he is going to be an explosive witness in any investigation,” says Gene Rossi, a former federal prosecutor and now a defense lawyer in Washington. “My gut is that his cooperation and the amount of information he has provided is a big nothing-burger.”

On Friday, Papadopoulos will stand before US District Judge Randolph Moss for sentencing after pleading guilty last year to one count of making a false statement to FBI agents. Under federal sentencing guidelines, Papadopoulos, who has no prior criminal history, faces up to six months in prison.

Prosecutors working for the special counsel are suggesting the 31-year-old energy analyst should spend at least some time behind bars. Defense lawyers are urging Judge Moss to reject a term of incarceration.

One small chapter 

The judge’s pronouncement of punishment will close one small chapter in what has become a sprawling investigation into alleged collusion and obstruction of justice involving Mr. Trump and members of his campaign.

So far, 32 individuals have been indicted or pleaded guilty to charges brought by Mueller. They include 13 Russian citizens and three Russian companies under indictment for manipulating social media to influence US public opinion prior to the 2016 election. They also include 12 Russian intelligence officers charged with hacking and publicly releasing embarrassing emails from the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee in 2016.

No US citizen – and no member of the Trump campaign – has yet been charged with conspiring with or participating in these alleged Russian efforts.

For his part, Trump has loudly and repeatedly denounced the investigation as a politically motivated “witch hunt.”

While Mueller is specifically tasked to investigate alleged US-Russia collusion, he has authority to prosecute other crimes he encounters, and charges have been brought against four members of Trump’s campaign. Former campaign chair Paul Manafort was recently convicted of bank fraud and tax evasion related to his past work as a consultant in Ukraine, and faces a second trial on similar charges later this month. Mr. Manafort’s associate, Richard Gates, who was charged in both cases, has pleaded guilty and is cooperating with prosecutors.

Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, has pleaded guilty to lying to federal agents about a conversation he had about sanctions with Russia’s ambassador to the US a few weeks before Trump took office. 

Papadopoulos was the fourth member of the Trump team to be charged. After pleading guilty to lying to federal agents, he agreed to cooperate with investigators.

But the special counsel’s office is apparently less than happy with Papadopoulos’s contribution to their investigation. In their sentencing memorandum to the judge, prosecutors said Papadopoulos had failed to provide “substantial assistance” to the investigation. Under federal sentencing guidelines, a defendant who provides “substantial assistance” usually receives a reduced sentence.

“Much of the information provided by the defendant came only after the government confronted him with his own emails, text messages, internet search history, and other information it had obtained via search warrants and subpoenas well after the defendant’s FBI interview as the government continued its investigation,” the memorandum says.

Defense lawyers paint a different picture of their client in their own sentencing memo to the judge.

Papadopoulos never intended for his misstatements to derail the investigation, the lawyers say. Instead, Papadopoulos wanted a prestigious job in the Trump administration, so he tried to avoid telling the FBI anything that might cast his would-be bosses in a negative light.

“Mr. Papadopoulos misled investigators to save his professional aspirations and preserve a perhaps misguided loyalty to his master,” the lawyers wrote in an apparent reference to Trump.

The lawyers also note that even after being told that Russia had “dirt” on Clinton, their client’s top priority wasn’t to pursue that dirt but instead to continue pursuing diplomacy – working toward opening the way for a possible Trump-Putin meeting and stronger US-Russia relations.

A protective order

One question left unresolved in the government’s memorandum is why federal agents waited six months to interview Papadopoulos.

The FBI has said it began a counter-intelligence investigation of alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia in late July 2016. It was sparked after an Australian diplomat relayed to the US that Papadopoulos had revealed that Russia possessed “dirt” on Clinton.

This report seemed to verify allegations made in an opposition research “dossier” about then-candidate Trump produced by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele. Work on the dossier had been funded by the Clinton campaign and the Democratic Party.

Some of the information from the dossier was used to support a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant to conduct a counter-espionage operation against Carter Page, another Trump campaign advisor. The surveillance authorization was initiated in October 2016 and was reauthorized three times. Papadopoulos is mentioned by name in all four FISA applications.

In a posting on Twitter Monday, Papadopoulos’s wife, Simona Mangiante, questioned why her husband’s name would appear in Mr. Page’s FISA warrant documents. “They don’t know each other,” she wrote. “Perhaps, George had a FISA on him too?”

FISA applications are classified as “Top Secret.”

FBI officials acknowledge that the Trump-Russia collusion investigation began as a result of the Papadopoulos disclosure. As such, Papadopoulos would have become the target of a US counter-intelligence operation and extensive surveillance in the US and overseas starting in late July 2016.

Such surveillance – and resulting intelligence reports – might be one reason prosecutors asked three weeks ago that Judge Moss issue a protective order preventing Papadopoulos and his lawyers from revealing any non-public information the government was about to disclose to the defense in advance of Friday’s sentencing hearing.

The order says in part that confidential government-provided information in the case “may not be disseminated or used in connection with any other matter without further order of the court.”

Papadopoulos’s wife mounted a campaign in recent weeks to rally support for her husband. In late August, she conducted a series of media interviews suggesting that her husband should reject his guilty plea and instead fight the charge. Then, late last week, she reversed course and said he would stand by his guilty plea.

In her interviews, Ms. Mangiante speculated that her husband may have been the victim of an attempted sting operation designed to create an appearance that Papadopoulos was colluding with Russians to justify opening an FBI investigation that would dovetail with allegations in the Steele dossier. Part of the conspiracy evidence she cited is that Professor Mifsud appears to have gone into hiding.

“My husband, I don’t want him to be the sacrificial lamb of the witch hunt,” she said during a recent interview on Fox News.

The couple has set up a GoFundMe page to raise money to pay ongoing legal expenses. The page was opened on June 24 and has so far raised $8,342 of a $75,000 goal. To date, 180 people have made donations.

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4. Guatemalans took the fight to federal impunity. Why their effort was chilled.

Guatemalans have been outspoken about battling fraud and corruption. But their voices have grown quieter, which may speak to an increasingly difficult political atmosphere in the country.

Yvonne
Santiago Billy/AP
A woman holding a Guatemalan flag protests at the Plaza de la Constitución in Guatemala City Sept. 4. President Jimmy Morales recently announced he would not renew the mandate of a UN-backed commission probing corruption in Guatemala.

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The last time President Jimmy Morales, a former comic who was elected president on promises of honesty, tried to block the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), a United Nations-backed anti-corruption commission, Guatemalan demonstrators flooded the streets, demanding CICIG stay. Fast-forward one year to Mr. Morales’s announcement last Friday to halt the commission and the response is decidedly different. Demonstrations have been smaller and groups previously supportive of CICIG are largely silent. Observers say recent events – including the mobilization of military tanks surrounding CICIG offices and a tepid response from the United States – have created a chilling effect. “People are afraid and confused and many say the protests have been infiltrated by spies,” says demonstrator Rodrigo de León. Corruption and impunity are deep-seated challenges in Latin America. Now, citizen organizers in Guatemala are responding to Morales’s decision with political action, focusing on overhauling the nation’s political system. “People need to organize,” says Leiria Vay Garcia, leader of the country’s main peasant organization. But “this doesn’t just mean taking to the streets.” 

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1. Guatemalans took the fight to federal impunity. Why their effort was chilled.

Last Friday, hours after President Jimmy Morales announced he would shut down a United Nations-funded anti-corruption commission that put two of his predecessors behind bars, protesters gathered in Guatemala City’s main square.

“The people revoke your mandate. Resign now,” read a hand-scribbled sign, a reference to President Morales and his move to halt the mandate of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG). The commission has been renewed repeatedly since launching in 2006, with its current authorization set to expire next year.

Corruption and impunity are deep-seated challenges in Latin America, where widespread protests to clean up government have swept nations from Honduras to Mexico to Brazil in recent years. Amid a regionwide perception that the public sector is corrupt, Guatemalans have recently become known for speaking out against fraud. In 2015, weekslong mass protests pressured then-President Otto Pérez Molina and his Vice President Roxana Baldetti to step down. Their alleged involvement in an embezzlement scheme that skimmed millions from public contracts was initially brought to light by CICIG.

When Morales, a former comic who was elected president on promises of honesty and integrity, tried to cancel the commission’s mandate last year after CICIG began investigating his participation in illegal campaign funding, Guatemalan demonstrators once again flooded the streets, demanding that CICIG stay.

Moises Castillo/AP
Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales, center, places a medal on general Manuel Pineda Saravia, right, during the 145th anniversary of a military school in San Juan Sacatepequez, Guatemala, Sept. 1. After he became the target of investigations, President Morales has repeatedly tried to halt the work of a UN-backed anti-corruption commission.

But this most recent move to halt the commission’s work – and to ban the lead investigator from reentering the country – has drawn a decidedly different response. Demonstrations have been smaller and groups previously supportive of CICIG, like the business class, are largely silent after recent investigations targeted their community.

Observers say recent events – including the mobilization of military tanks surrounding CICIG offices and a tepid response from the United States – have created a chilling effect. 

I don’t want “the fight against corruption to grind to a halt,” says demonstrator Rodrigo de León, explaining his reason for joining the protest in Guatemala City’s main square last week. “I want a better future for my children.” But unlike the 2015 protests, he chose not to bring his wife and two young kids.

“People are afraid and confused and many say the protests have been infiltrated by spies,” Mr. de León says. “Everyone is fighting for their own causes. We need a common discourse to bring us together again.”

Corruption Fatigue 

Since CICIG was created by treaty between Guatemalan lawmakers and the United Nations in December 2006, the commission has investigated high-level crimes ranging from drug trafficking to illegal adoptions to government kickback schemes. 

The commission, envied by anticorruption protesters across the region, is one of the most trusted institutions in Guatemala, according to a 2017 survey by Vanderbilt University’s Latin American Public Opinion Project. Some 70 percent of Guatemalans surveyed said they have faith in CICIG. 

But support for the body has faltered in recent years, says Renzo Rosal, a political analyst in Guatemala City. “What we have today is a good level of backing for CICIG, but it’s dispersed,” he says. “Over the past two years there have been shifts in public opinion around CICIG due to impressions that there’s selective prosecution involved,” he says, referring to cases targeting the business class or Morales’s extended family.

Critics say lead investigator Iván Velásquez Gómez has overstepped his authority by taking over public institutions. Supporters say the organization has the autonomy to confront the nation’s powerful elite who have long operated above the law, and to train local officials in investigation and prosecution.

Morales announced the expulsion of CICIG a week after the country’s highest court ruled that he should be stripped of his prosecutorial immunity and charged for his involvement in the illegal campaign funding scandal during the 2015 election.

“I see it as a coup,” although not in the traditional sense, says Anita Isaacs, a Guatemala expert at Haverford College in Pennsylvania. “It’s the military against the symbolic upholder of democracy in the country.”

Many observers attribute the muted public response to military presence – the tanks circling CICIG offices – and what they symbolize. Guatemala endured a bloody 36-year civil war under a right wing, US-backed dictatorship. Few have been held accountable for the estimated 200,000 people killed during that time. 

As more cases of corruption are exposed, there’s also the very real possibility of corruption fatigue

“After the current president turned out to be just as bad as his predecessor, people ask themselves what’s the point in protesting,” says Gabriel Wer, a member of #JusticiaYa (#JusticeNow), the main coordinator of the 2015 protests.

Empowering civil society 

The Constitutional Court could override Morales’s decision to block CICIG, as it did last year. But the lack of action so far, combined with a lukewarm response from both the Guatemalan people and from the US suggest it’s unlikely.  

Over the past decade, CICIG has made an impact in Guatemala, says Dr. Isaacs. “It has been a spectacular experiment in building capacity within local institutions,” she says. “It’s generated a belief that democracy is possible in Guatemala and [it] empowered civil society to actually understand what corruption means in everyday life and the importance of ending it.”

But others say the advances haven’t gone far enough. “What I fear the most is that the progress Guatemala has made during CICIG’s time here – those advances are easy to turn back,” says Mr. Rosal. “The commission can’t be here another hundred years….But I think we need CICIG to be here for another four years, at least.”

From protest to political action 

In the past, Guatemalans have protested attempts to block CICIG. This time, citizen organizers say they are responding with political action.

Indigenous and peasant groups have issued statements against Morales’s decision to expel CICIG but instead of calling for national strikes, as they did in 2015, they’re focusing on upcoming elections. 

Leiria Vay García, a leader of CODECA, one of the country’s main human rights organizations for rural populations, says it is creating a political party that can compete in the 2019 elections. The goal is to overhaul the nation’s political system and rewrite the constitution, scrapping lawmakers’ rights to prosecutorial immunity, Ms. García says.

“People need to organize,” she says. But, “this doesn’t just mean taking to the streets.” 

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Difference-maker

Drivers of change

5. How one man helps ordinary people feel a book is written just for them

Any child can tell you that reading aloud makes a story come alive. One man in Germany has recreated that shared experience for adults, and it's allowing people to learn how to talk and listen to each other and work through their differences.

Yvonne
Isabelle de Pommereau
Carsten Sommerfeldt quit his job to bring Shared Reading, in which participants read texts out loud, to Germany.

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As publicity director for German publishers, Carsten Sommerfeldt had exhilarating moments with some of the world’s best-known authors. Yet over the years, Mr. Sommerfeldt became disenchanted with the book circuit. And during an especially successful book tour, it hit him that he had to change paths. “The publishers were in heaven; the bookstores were in heaven,” he says. “But what was there for the readers?” He thought of launching book clubs or literary salons, “but I came to the same antagonism of some people claiming to know everything and others feeling less worth.” Then he heard about Jane Davis, a literature teacher from Liverpool, England, who helped people feel better by having them read literature out loud – an activity she called Sharing Reading. Sommerfeldt attended a training session for new Shared Reading facilitators, and he quit his job to launch Shared Reading in the German-speaking world. Now, more than 20 such groups are up and running. “The words make me think about life, and they give me strength,” says Dakhaz Hossin, a young mother participating in Shared Reading in Heidelberg, Germany.

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How one man helps ordinary people feel a book is written just for them

On a recent evening on the outskirts of Heidelberg, a city in southern Germany with a long tradition of writers and philosophers, five young women and a man have come together to read prose and poetry out loud. They meet inside a colorful 1970s-era housing block that serves as a center for migrants during the day. There is a plate of cookies on the table and tea, black and herb. No smartphones.

Dakhaz Hossin, a young mother with long black hair, rushes in. She’s frazzled, having left her brothers and son to join the group. She begins to relax as Carsten Sommerfeldt, a white-bearded man in his 50s, passes around the story to be shared this evening. He starts to read the story out loud, pronouncing each word clearly. One might think he is a university professor.

Ms. Hossin takes in the words from “The Thief,” by Indian writer Ruskin Bond. She lets the story sink in before sharing her thoughts. In the story, Arun is a bad person, she says, a thief taking advantage of his friend. “What do you mean?” Mr. Sommerfeldt says encouragingly, probingly. Her comments trigger a round of soul-searching questions that explore life’s complexities.

Yet Sommerfeldt is not a professor, and this is no posh literary salon. A former publishing executive who became disillusioned with his job, Sommerfeldt is on a mission to bring the power of literature out of elitist circles and directly to the people – whoever they are and wherever they live.

Shared Reading, as the activity that Hossin was experiencing is known, is a remarkably simple concept with powerful effects. “It is about establishing a connection between you and the text,” Sommerfeldt says of the concept he brought from Britain almost three years ago. “Everybody carries personal stories and images worth sharing.”

Every week for 90 minutes, here and in libraries, bookstores, and other community centers across Germany, from Berlin to Hamburg, Frankfurt to Heidelberg, people meet in small groups. Senior citizens, refugees, troubled youths, and many others take turns reading texts aloud, pausing at regular intervals to reflect and share any thoughts or memories the passages have opened up. A trained volunteer facilitator moderates the discussion.

More than 20 such groups are up and running, and dozens more are planned to begin soon across Germany and Switzerland. In an increasingly fractured society, Sommerfeldt’s Shared Reading groups have become important platforms for encounters, allowing people to learn how to talk and listen to each other and work through their differences.

“It brings people together regardless of where they come from,” says Julia Kizhukandayil of the nonprofit Robert Bosch Foundation, which is based in Stuttgart, Germany, and supports initiatives promoting social cohesion.

After a while, a one-way street

Sommerfeldt had gone into the publishing world to share his passion for literature. As publicity director for Berlin Verlag first and Droemer Knaur later, he’d had exhilarating moments, including memorable book tours – and friendships – with some of the world’s best-known authors, such as Richard Ford and Margaret Atwood.

Yet over the years, from Sommerfeldt’s perspective the scene became a one-way street. Book tours consisted of “journalists asking questions, the author or [as is often the case in Germany] celebrities reading a few passages of a book, and people lining up to get the books signed,” he says.

And then it hit him that he had to change paths. It was during an especially successful book tour, drawing huge audiences. “The publishers were in heaven; the bookstores were in heaven,” he says. “But what was there for the readers?”

Missing was a connection between the author and the public. He yearned to “engage not just the authors but also the readers in a live conversation about what in particular they loved about the author and how important the book was to them,” Sommerfeldt says. “There had to be a way of sharing the power of literature, of making them feel that when they read a book, it’s written just for them.”

He thought of launching book clubs or literary salons, “but I came to the same antagonism of some people claiming to know everything and others feeling less worth.”

Then he heard about a literature teacher from Liverpool, England, who, through her nonprofit The Reader, had helped thousands of people feel better by having them read literature out loud.

As Sommerfeldt tells it, literature had helped Jane Davis through a difficult childhood. Although she worked at the University of Liverpool, she never felt at ease being an “expert” teaching literature. One day she started handing out prose and poetry to people not only in her class but also on the streets, inviting them to read aloud and discuss the pieces with her. Before she knew it, large crowds were taking part.

She created Shared Reading, which today has 5,000 facilitators who administer 500 groups in prisons, libraries, youth clubs, and hospitals across the United Kingdom.

“Jane found that when people actually read a piece aloud, that changes the whole outlook and perspective. It is something concrete that people could relate to,” Sommerfeldt says.

There it was, the connection he’d been craving to find. Two weeks later, Sommerfeldt found himself in Liverpool attending one of the training sessions Dr. Davis organized for new facilitators. Together with the other trainees, he scrutinized British writer David Constantine’s “In Another Country,” a story about an old man looking back at his married life.

“I was overwhelmed by the way the book came alive,” he remembers. “I didn’t realize how much of a powerful, immediate impact literature could have. This was much more than I could ever have imagined.”

Sommerfeldt quit his job to launch Shared Reading in the German-speaking world. Doors opened after he introduced the concept at the Leipzig Book Fair in 2016. It was greeted as “Germany’s new reading revolution.”

Calls poured in. From government offices to nonprofit groups to hospitals, people offered money to train facilitators and space to host Shared Reading groups.

The housing block

In Heidelberg, officials said Sommerfeldt could help the city fulfill its mission as one of 28 UNESCO Cities of Literature worldwide. Shared Reading is a “fantastic way” to fill in a gap, helping bring culture to society’s most vulnerable citizens, including older people and migrants, because “it works with everybody whether they can read or not,” says Ulrike Hacker of the Karlstorbahnhof, a nonprofit that promotes culture in Heidelberg.

Take Emmertsgrund, a neighborhood of high-rises built to relieve Heidelberg’s housing shortage. It’s home to families from the Middle East, guest workers from Turkey, Russian Germans, and many others.

“By bus, Emmertsgrund is a long, long way away,” Ms. Hacker says. “That’s why it was important to show Shared Reading can do good anywhere in a noncomplicated way. All you need are people who understand its potential and say, ‘Yes, I’m going to use it.’ ”

In Emmertsgrund, that person is Griseldis Kumm – a youth and community worker for almost two decades who is a passionate reader herself. When she heard the Heidelberg mayor rave about Sommerfeldt, she intuitively felt that Shared Reading could benefit some of the young people she works with, especially those with migrant backgrounds.

Among others, she invited Hossin as well as her sister, who are originally from Iraq, to take part. Ms. Kumm knew that for them to show up every Monday at 6 p.m. would be a huge challenge. And yet months later, they’re still coming, hardly ever missing a session.

Why?

“Those 90 minutes, they’re mine,” Hossin says. “When I come in, it feels like being in a sauna: You switch off; you’re with others. All you have to do is concentrate on the text.”

It’s not just that Shared Reading has opened a new world to her – that of Sylvia Plath and Tobias Wolff, Elizabeth Bowen and Shakespeare. It’s also that it’s helped her develop and accept new ways of looking at things, she says.

“The words make me think about life, and they give me strength,” Hossin says. “I take them home until next week.”

At Shared Reading, she adds, she can talk about feelings and thoughts without fear of being judged or reprimanded. “Carsten and Frau Kumm, they give me the feeling I’m safe,” she says.

Sommerfeldt remembers how shy Hossin had been about reading out loud at first. But when she brought German poet Heinrich Heine’s work “I love a flower” to the group recently and proceeded to read it aloud without stumbling, he knew that the Shared Reading model had struck a chord.

“I was baffled,” he says. “Dakhaz said, ‘I can do this; I can read to the others – maybe not as well, not as fast as the others, but I won’t let myself be put down.”

Over in Frankfurt

One reason that Shared Reading keeps growing is that it “is about people feeling personally inspired by it and then finding those individuals they’ll bring aboard,” says Hacker in Heidelberg.

In Frankfurt, a city of banks and glass towers some two hours north of Heidelberg, Benno Hennig von Lange, who works at Literaturhaus, a venue for literary events, saw Shared Reading as a chance to experience “the power of literature without the author being there.” Two years ago, he invited Sommerfeldt to host groups there.

Word soon spread to a nearby hospital. When Christiane Faust-Bettermann heard that Literaturhaus had launched Shared Reading, she said, “I want to be part of this, too.” Her hospital was always looking for ways to help patients – especially those dealing with depression or panic attacks – go home after a hospital stay. Shared Reading could be one of these ways. Mostly, “I felt it was something that I would benefit from, and if it benefited me, it could benefit others,” Dr. Faust-Bettermann says.

A partnership ensued, with Sommerfeldt moderating a group of former patients before Faust-Bettermann took the lead of the group herself, once she was trained.

With its imposing white facade and spacious, high-ceilinged rooms, Literaturhaus can be an intimidating place for regular folks. But it’s there that Faust-Bettermann’s 11 “shared readers” recently met to read and discuss Mr. Wolff’s short story “Powder.” Delving into questions about father-son relationships was an emotional moment for participant Ralf Ebert.

Indeed, Shared Reading grants people direct access to whatever it is in a book or poem that “touches you emotionally and personally,” Faust-Bettermann says. “Books and short stories encapsulate all the complex themes of life,” she says.

Mr. Ebert says Shared Reading helped him see better “how many perspectives there can be on one issue, and that not one is more important and justified than another,” he says. “It’s a small lesson in humility.”

Shared Reading, Ebert says, has given his life new impulse. He has learned how to harness the power hidden behind poems and to see how one’s imagination can propel one forward.

Far away in Heidelberg, Hossin says, “Shared Reading is a gift.” It comes every week, in a different color and shape, a different wrapping. “You have to learn how to accept it,” she says.

Ebert agrees, and he is not alone.

Other groups building a sense of community

Universal Giving helps people give to and volunteer for top-performing charitable organizations around the world. All the projects below are vetted by UniversalGiving; 100 percent of each donation goes directly to the listed cause.

Rural Communities Empowerment Center provides resources and services to improve levels of literacy in Ghana. Take action: Contribute to funds for community resource centers overseen by this group.

Globe Aware has a mission that includes working with children in slums and other disadvantaged youths. Take action: Donate money to build a community center in Romania for the Roma.

BRAC USA aims to empower people as well as communities dealing with poverty, illiteracy, disease, or social injustice. Take action: Financially support training for those who work with farmers to improve their harvests.

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The Monitor's View

Ending North Korea’s nuclear program: What now?

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Negotiations between the United States and North Korea aimed at the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula have dragged on with little to show for them since the June meeting in Singapore between the nations’ leaders. Patience on both sides seems to be wearing thin, even though tensions seem lower and personal rapport appears intact. But this week also saw two damaging domestic events for the Trump administration: the publication of a book about the apparently troubled inner workings of the White House, and an unflattering assessment of President Trump’s performance by an unidentified official, published in The New York Times. Will Kim Jong-un now see Mr. Trump as a weakened and unreliable partner? Or might Mr. Kim recognize that he has a willing counterpart in Washington now and should make a deal while he can? Both leaders have shown a willingness to play cat and mouse, alternating friendly overtures with tough talk. But both leaders (and both countries) could gain from better relations. Negotiation is preferable to conflict. Patient, persistent talk can yield real results. And sometimes actions can prod negotiations along.

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Ending North Korea’s nuclear program: What now?

Domestic politics now looms large over a White House foreign-policy endeavor that stands a chance of becoming a big step forward for world peace and stability.

Negotiations between the United States and North Korea aimed at the denuclearization of the reclusive and repressive Asian nation have dragged on without much to show for them since a historic June 12 meeting in Singapore between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. In a sweeping statement immediately after that summit Mr. Trump tweeted: “There is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea.”

Nearly everyone, perhaps even Trump himself, knows he was overstating what had happened. But seen as stating an aspiration, not a fact, it clearly put forward the result the US was seeking.

The summit has yielded a tangible result: Unquestionably US-North Korean tensions, and the threat of a nuclear missile launch, have been lower over the summer. 

But patience on both sides seems to be wearing thin. Any substantial progress toward denuclearization seems stalled. The president recently asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo not to make a planned visit to North Korea, citing the lack of forward momentum in talks.

Whatever personal rapport Trump has built with Mr. Kim seems intact. This week, through a South Korean diplomat, Kim said that his faith in Trump was “unchanged,” and he set the first real deadline for negotiations to be completed: before the end of Trump’s first term of office in early 2021. Trump tweeted in response: “Thank you to Chairman Kim. We will get it done together!” 

But this week also saw two damaging domestic events for the Trump administration: the publication of a new book (“Fear: Trump in the White House”) about the apparently troubled inner workings of the White House by investigative reporter Bob Woodward, and an unflattering assessment of Trump’s performance in office by an unidentified senior official, published as an opinion piece in The New York Times.

Will Kim now see Trump as a weakened and unreliable partner, perhaps not reelectable in 2020, or possibly forced to leave even earlier? Or has Kim’s new deadline recognized that he has a willing counterpart in Washington now and should make a deal before another president arrives who may take a different approach?

Both Trump and Kim have shown a willingness to play a cat-and-mouse game, alternating friendly personal overtures with tough talk, often through surrogates. But both leaders (and both countries) would seem to have much to gain from better relations.

Trump has halted joint US-South Korean military exercises as a goodwill gesture. Kim has stopped his nuclear tests and provocative missile firings. 

Some kind of formal agreement that would officially end the Korean War (only a cease-fire has existed for more than 60 years) could be a further US concession. But would the North then argue that US troops have no reason to be stationed on South Korean soil?

A meeting Sept. 18-20 between Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, their third since April, will serve as another opportunity for dialogue with the North. The South is both a close US ally and has its own large stake in the outcome, making it an essential partner in any agreement.

It may take more than words to move negotiations forward. Reinstating sanctions that limit North Korea’s oil imports, for example, could create new urgency on Kim’s part to cut a real deal to end its nuclear weapons program in exchange for more normal relations with the US and the world.

Negotiation is always preferable to conflict. Patient, persistent talk can yield real results. But sometimes firm actions can prod vital negotiations along.

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A Christian Science Perspective

About this feature

Each weekday, the Monitor includes one clearly labeled religious article offering spiritual insight on contemporary issues, including the news. The publication – in its various forms – is produced for anyone who cares about the progress of the human endeavor around the world and seeks news reported with compassion, intelligence, and an essentially constructive lens. For many, that caring has religious roots. For many, it does not. The Monitor has always embraced both audiences. The Monitor is owned by a church – The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston – whose founder was concerned with both the state of the world and the quality of available news.

Everyday holiness can elevate human life

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Today’s column explores how expressing goodness, grace, and kindness can bless others and bring the fruits of holy inspiration into human life.

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Everyday holiness can elevate human life

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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I had an experience in a county courthouse recently when I needed to get copies of legal papers for a family member. After a sleepless night, I was struggling with fatigue when I entered the building. With some difficulty, I found my way up to the correct office on the fourth floor, where I was met by a man sitting behind a desk in an unattractive room with fluorescent lights. It’s safe to say that nothing about my surroundings inspired me.

But then this dear man smiled at me very warmly. And when I told him what I needed, he proceeded to go out of his way to locate my file, carefully help me identify the pages that needed to be copied, escort me down to the copy and cashier area on the first floor, and then joke with his fellow employees while he waited to be sure my paperwork was properly notarized. I thanked him profusely, and then bounded down the courthouse steps that I had plodded up just thirty minutes earlier. I now felt full of vigor.

It seemed like a special experience in the most unlikely of settings. I regularly study the Bible, and I attend church on Sundays. I cherish the special inspiration and closeness to God these bring me. But there’s something breathtaking to me about moments that sneak up on ordinary days when such tenderness, kindness, grace, or goodness is expressed that an everyday experience becomes inspired and feels holy, even healing.

Christian Science has taught me that the expression of kindness and goodness comes from an inherent spirituality that is ours because the true nature of each one of us is, in fact, Christly, even if that spiritual goodness may sometimes seem covered in dust and hard to discern. In the Bible, we can read about how Christ Jesus lived this true nature so compellingly and with such clarity as he went about his daily walk, that it consistently healed people. On one occasion, the book of Luke says, “The whole multitude sought to touch him: for there went virtue out of him, and healed them all” (6:19). And on another occasion, a woman who had been hemorrhaging for 12 years came up to Jesus and touched the edge of the robe he was wearing and was instantaneously restored to health. According to the book of Mark, Jesus knew “that virtue had gone out of him” when this occurred (see 5:25-34). It was the Christliness, spirituality, and purity he lived that healed, in the same way that light excludes darkness without effort just by being light.

Another Bible story relates a wedding where Christ Jesus turned water into wine. Christian Science discoverer Mary Baker Eddy briefly expounds on this incident, and what it signified spiritually, in the Christian Science textbook, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures.” She writes, “May Christ, Truth, be present at every bridal altar to turn the water into wine and to give to human life an inspiration by which man’s spiritual and eternal existence may be discerned” (p. 65). As I’ve thought about these words, they’ve often inspired my prayer that Christ, Truth, be present in every detail of our lives, bringing the inspiration that enables us to discern the spiritual and eternal existence in everyone and everything we encounter in our day.

Every experience and situation we find ourselves in can be uplifted – can even be seen as an opportunity for healing – when our thought is imbued with spiritual inspiration. Being consciously committed to expressing God in our everyday lives – through Christly kindness, solicitude, wisdom, love, and joy, no matter what our circumstances – brings holiness and healing to those in our experience. Such is the natural outcome of inspired living.

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Viewfinder

Out from under a law

Francis Mascarenhas/Reuters
A supporter of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community holds a rainbow flag Sept. 6 in Mumbai as he and others celebrate the Indian Supreme Court’s verdict decriminalizing gay sex by revoking the relevant Section 377 law.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte. )
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In Our Next Issue

( September 7th, 2018 )

Thanks so much for spending time with us today. Come back tomorrow. Our Supreme Court reporter, Henry Gass, has been at the Kavanaugh hearings in Washington all week and will be examining why modern nomination hearings now offer so little in the way of meaningful information.

Monitor Daily Podcast

September 06, 2018
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