Noelle Swan
Deputy Daily Editor

Ap Verheggen has done something impossible.

The Dutch artist and inventor has developed a technology capable of pulling water out of thin air.

During a five-day test of his SunGlacier project in the Mali desert, Mr. Verheggen was able to extract 8 liters of clean water per day using two minifridge-sized metal boxes he dubbed the Desert Twins.

In the grand scheme of things, that yield is small. But in a world where more than 2 billion people lack access to potable water at home, every drop counts. Verheggen has since offered a smaller version of his device to universities around the world to improve upon.

The secret sauce of visionaries, it seems, is to help the rest of us to see past the confines of possibility. Not all attempts to achieve the impossible pan out, of course. The alchemists, for instance, never did find the recipe to transform ordinary elements into gold.

But every day, there are individuals all over the world who do succeed in turning fantastical ideas into reality, from drones that are restoring lost forest in Southeast Asia at the rate of 100,000 trees a day, to fans in Iceland that suck carbon dioxide out of the air and turn it into stone.

In a world facing seemingly insurmountable challenges, these technological “miracles” offer a sense of hope for us all.

Now on to our five stories for today. One showcases a symbiotic relationship between Chinese families wanting their children to receive an American education and a US community struggling to fill desks. Another highlights the perseverance required to keep a country wracked by violence and hunger informed.

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1. How Russian efforts to woo India are boosted by US sanctions

From challenges come opportunity? That may well be President Vladimir Putin’s mantra in New Delhi as he seeks to reinsert Russia into India’s diversified portfolio of relationships.

Mikhail Metzel/Sputnik/Kremlin/Reuters
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi meet in New Delhi Oct. 4. On the visit's official agenda are arms deals and other traditional items, but for Mr. Putin, the underlying mission is winning back the allegiance of one of Moscow's staunchest Soviet-era friends.

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During the cold war India had close military, economic, and political ties with the Soviet Union, and to this day about 70 percent of Indian equipment is of Russian origin. But the formerly tight Indo-Russian relationship has been fraying for years as India has sought new partners. Today, Indians have become players in the United States, pursuing opportunities that Russia cannot match. In Indian public opinion polls, Russia lags the US. Now Russian President Vladimir Putin is in New Delhi, and while military contracts are on the agenda, the bigger prize is tilting India back toward Russia. One of the things working in his favor is the Trump administration’s determination to crack down on anyone breaking US sanctions on Russia and Iran, two of India’s major trading partners. “The US has been trying to woo India to become more of a counterbalance to China in Asia, and they have been winning the public relations war over Russia,” says Nandan Unnikrishnan, an Indian expert on Russia. But, he adds, “Under Trump, the US seems to be weaponizing the dollar, forcing everyone to choose, which is something new. Nobody likes to be threatened, so this is having an adverse impact on Indian public opinion.”


How Russian efforts to woo India are boosted by US sanctions

Amid today’s galloping global disorder, questions about one of Asia’s most important emerging powers, India, and where it fits into today’s rapidly shifting geopolitical equations, seem to be getting short shrift.

But not from Russian President Vladimir Putin. He is currently in New Delhi, holding his second summit meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi so far this year.

The agenda is packed with huge arms deals and other traditional items. But for Mr. Putin, the underlying challenge is how to win back the allegiance of one of Moscow’s staunchest Soviet-era friends. And this at a time when growing Russian-Chinese strategic unity is making India increasingly nervous, and as ongoing US efforts to win over Indians leave Russia consistently lagging the US in Indian public opinion polls.

But as Putin makes the rounds in New Delhi, with a large Russian business delegation in tow, one of the things working in his favor is the Trump administration’s new determination to crack down hard on anyone breaking US sanctions on Russia and Iran, two of India’s major trading partners.

Just last month Washington slapped tough “secondary sanctions” on China for purchasing Russian S-400 air defense systems and fighter planes. Not coincidentally, the main deal Putin and Mr. Modi plan to sign at this summit is a $5 billion sale of Russian S-400 missiles to bolster Indian air defenses.

“We are in a new situation,” says Nandan Unnikrishnan, a Russia expert at the independent Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi. “Since 2014, when Russia’s crisis with the West grew acute over Crimea and other issues, the Russians have been moving closer to China. India has been working to diversify its global relationships. The US has been trying to woo India to become more of a counterbalance to China in Asia, and they have been winning the public relations war over Russia.”

‘Weaponizing the dollar’

But Mr. Trump’s aggressive unilateralism has introduced a new note of uncertainty, he says.

“At first we didn’t worry about Trump, because we assumed there was a consensus in Washington that better relations with India were a good thing,” he says. “But India is really concerned that the US will sanction us, as they did China, under the new CAATSA measures [Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act], for buying the S-400 from proscribed Russian defense firms.

“Under Trump, the US seems to be weaponizing the dollar, forcing everyone to choose, which is something new,” he adds. “Nobody likes to be threatened, so this is having an adverse impact on Indian public opinion.”

During the cold war India had close military, economic, and political ties with the USSR. It was never a Soviet “ally” in any formal sense and, since India’s foreign policy doctrine remains strictly wedded to the principles of non-alignment, it is not likely to join any alliance in the future. But for many decades its main source of military equipment was the Soviet Union, and to this day about 70 percent of Indian equipment is of Russian origin.

Russia is also the only key supplier of civilian nuclear technology to India, with two new nuclear reactors under construction in India’s south, and is also India’s main partner in developing its ambitions to become a space-faring power.

Tightening US-India relationship

But the formerly tight Indo-Russian relationship has been fraying for years, as India seeks new partners for military equipment, economic investment, political cooperation, and cultural engagement. Indians have become players in the US – from Wall Street, to Silicon Valley, to Hollywood – pursuing opportunities that Russia cannot match.

In recent years India has established a strategic dialogue with the US, and placed large orders for American military equipment, especially drones, and is even considering purchasing the F-35 stealth fighter. It has also moved away from Russian suppliers by opting for French and Israeli equipment.

“Everyone understands there is no possibility of restoring old relationships,” says Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of Russia in Global Affairs, a leading Moscow-based foreign policy journal. “Now everybody is trying to balance, diversify, keep options open. And for Russia the key problem is to balance relations with India and China. The fact is, we need to maintain strong and positive ties with both, even if the strains between them are growing.”

At least in the military sphere, Russia still has things to offer that the US cannot match. The S-400 air defense system, for example, which has no exact counterpart in the US arms inventory. Another is a willingness to feed India’s hunger for technology transfer, by agreeing to build Russian warships and helicopters in India. Russia has also leased a nuclear-powered Akula class attack submarine to India’s navy, and appears on the verge of agreeing to provide a second one.

“Russia is seen as a reliable standby partner for India, one that has a solid track record with us,” says Vinay Shukla, Russia editor for India Strategic, a New Delhi-based monthly defense journal. “When India came out as a nuclear weapons power in 1998, practically the whole world put sanctions on us. But Russia didn’t. That is remembered.”

Indian analysts say that the looming threat of US sanctions for purchasing new Russian military equipment is viewed as a problem that cannot be solved by caving in to US demands, but rather by finding ways to avoid using the US dollar as a means of payment. That could mean India will join a growing list of countries, including the European Union, who are creating alternative financial vehicles to avoid the growing thicket of US sanctions and continue trading with countries like Iran and Russia.

“We are going to have to find some innovative ways of paying each other. Actually, the Russians seem to have quite a few ideas about this,” says Mr. Unnikrishnan. “Perhaps we could even go back to the old India-Soviet system of barter, at least for the short term. Hopefully all these problems will eventually blow over.”

Private sector uncertainty

But no one is quite sure that, if push comes to shove, India’s vibrant private sector – for whom the US is a major market – will go along with overt sanctions-busting, even if it seems the patriotic thing to do.

“US unilateral sanctions work not politically, but economically,” says Asoke Mukerji, former Indian ambassador to the United Nations. “Many Indian companies that are active in the US market will argue in favor of abiding by the US sanctions. These are big companies, and they have a lot of political influence. But India has made it clear that we will abide only by UN sanctions.”

For Putin, these challenges represent a major opportunity to create a new paradigm for Russian relations with India, one that is resistant to the new pressures being exerted by Washington.

But not on the old model, and only up to a point, say experts.

“There is a public perception that the US and India are becoming aligned, and that everything is falling into place,” says Mr. Mukerji. “But on the ground, things look different.”

India is diversifying its relationships, he emphasizes, not making any fundamental realignment.

“It’s not one pie anymore, there are multiple pies. But India is not going to be pushed into one corner of a multi-polar world.”


2. For Chinese high-schoolers, there’s value to living and learning in Iowa

A confluence of wants, needs, and dreams – including empty school desks and parents with money – begets an education and business model that is bringing more young students from China to the US. 


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In China they are known as “parachute kids.” Dropped into a foreign country at a young age to learn, they carry the ambitions of families who have made their money in China’s cutthroat capitalist era. They are sent to rub shoulders with local students, to absorb their culture, to ace the tests. Chinese are attending US high schools in record numbers: In 2005, US high schools enrolled 639 Chinese students. By 2016, that number had risen to more than 33,000. In recent years, public school systems in smaller towns with shrinking school-age populations have begun recruiting students from China to fill empty desks. Ivy Chen is among the first 15 “parachute” students in Clinton, Iowa, a blue-collar city on the banks of the Mississippi River. For Ivy and her parents, Clinton offers an American education. For the town, Ivy and the other 14 students bring diversity. The school board voted unanimously to bring Chinese teens to Clinton. As board president Eric Gettes says, “The opportunity for our kids to be exposed to someone from a different culture, to have a more global view of their education, was really exciting to us.” 


For Chinese high-schoolers, there’s value to living and learning in Iowa

When the buzzer sounds, Ivy Chen has five minutes to get to her second class on the first day of school. At the door stands Prushia Golden, a student ambassador, who leads Ivy down the corridor, past the beige lockers, and into a fast-moving stream of athletic wear and streaked hair, the shouts and slaps of teenagers back together after summer break. 

As she walks, Ivy hugs her books to her chest. She wears a crisp white jacket and bright-green sneakers; her black bangs cover her forehead. She knows that Prushia is in precalculus, her next class, and then she sees Eason Yuan, a fellow student from China, who is also headed there. Ivy looks relieved. At this stage – day one of her junior year – she knows all of 10 students in this cavernous high school in an American city that she first set eyes on only two days earlier. 

Ivy and Eason find a table in the classroom and wait for the teacher to begin. He checks off everyone’s name and then seats them in groups of five. “Introduce yourselves to the group,” he says. “Tell them one thing that you enjoyed about summer and one thing that you didn’t enjoy.” Ivy smiles and volunteers first. “My name is Ivy,” she begins. 

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Chinese student Tiffany Yang (l.) helps local student Annika Reed use chopsticks.

China is already the largest market outside the United States for college recruiters. Its students made up around one-third of the 1.1 million international students enrolled in higher education in the US for the 2016-17 school year. Now Chinese are attending US high schools in record numbers, drawn by the promise of English-language immersion, a rounded education, and an earlier track to a selective American university. 

In 2005, US high schools enrolled only 639 Chinese students. By 2016, that number had risen to more than 33,000. While elite boarding schools have long catered to wealthy foreigners, the biggest beneficiary of the Chinese boom has been religiously affiliated private schools. In recent years, however, public school systems in smaller towns with shrinking school-age populations have also begun recruiting Chinese students to fill empty desks. 

“China used to send pandas. Now it sends students,” says Jiang Xueqin, a Canadian education consultant in Beijing.

In China they are known as “parachute kids.” Dropped into a foreign country – if not the US, then Australia or Britain or Canada – at a young age to learn, they carry the ambitions of families who have made their money in China’s cutthroat capitalist era. Nearly all are single children. They are sent to rub shoulders with local students, to absorb their culture, to ace the tests. Loneliness is common; packing up and going home is rarely an option. 

Ivy is among the first 15 “parachute” students in Clinton, a blue-collar city on the banks of the Mississippi River. The public high school she attends was rebuilt in the 1970s, when good jobs were still plentiful in the factories and food-processing plants. Since 1978, the same year that China began its capitalist makeover, Clinton has lost more than one-third of its manufacturing jobs. The layoffs and shutdowns have continued, including the closure in 2016 of Ashford University, a for-profit education provider that occupied a leafy hillside campus. 

The campus now belongs to a private Chinese educational group that charges students like Ivy $57,000 a year to live there and attend Clinton High School. It also provides supplemental education to the foreign students. The group aims to bring more than 300 Chinese students and vows to spread the economic benefits into the community while also injecting a dose of racial diversity and global thinking. To local leaders who have tried other initiatives to rejuvenate the town – to no avail – it feels like a lifeline. 

“The city of Clinton is looking for an initiative or an opportunity to hang its hat on, to say this is what is going to move us ahead in the future,” says Gary DeLacy, the school superintendent. 

That future isn’t here yet. The Chinese-owned academy must first gain accreditation so it can issue student visas. It will also be competing with other US schools recruiting in China. Then there’s the Trump factor, the growing fear that foreigners are less welcome. 

Ironically, when it comes to education, the trade deficit on which President Trump fixates is a $32 billion surplus, undergirded by Chinese spending. For all their shortcomings, US schools remain a global currency. Can the allure of an American education transform a town in the cornfields of Iowa? 


In December 2015, Brian Clem was on a fishing trip in Oregon with an investor buddy. Mr. Clem, a Democratic state representative in Oregon, was driving when his friend got a call from a real estate broker. The offer didn’t sound promising. His friend hung up on the caller – twice.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
‘I grew up in a town just like this that needs, and still needs, some engine of hope,' says Brian Clem, an Oregon state lawmaker and entrepreneur who helped launch the venture to bring Chinese students to Iowa.

On the third call, Clem interjected. “What are you talking about back there?” 

The broker was offering a college in Iowa: buildings, grounds, residences, sports facilities, a converted golf course, and an off-campus hotel. The seller, Bridgepoint Education, was closing it down and wanted to find a buyer by year-end to get a tax break. 

Clem was intrigued. He talked his buddy, Danton Wagner, into flying to Clinton for the weekend. Clem came away convinced it was a great opportunity. So the two men and a third investor set up a company, Clinton Catalyst LLC, and paid $1.6 million for Ashford’s assets. “We knew the hotel we could sell. We knew the golf course we could use or sell,” he says. “The college was the part we didn’t know what to do with.” 

The college was founded in 1893 by Franciscan nuns at a time when Clinton was growing rich in the lumber trade. Over the next century, as the city industrialized and then slid into decline, Mount St. Claire Academy’s fortunes rose and fell, and by the time it was sold to San Diego-based Bridgeport for $40 million in 2005, it only had 320 full-time students. 

Rebranded as Ashford, it retained its accreditation and ramped up online enrollment while handing out scholarships to attract students to campus. But a national backlash against for-profit universities led Bridgeport, which had invested tens of millions of dollars in new sports and science facilities, to end the venture.

In the summer of 2016, Clem moved into the shuttered college dorm and began working on a proposal to set up an elite science, technology, engineering, and math academy. In October 2016, then-Republican Gov. Terry Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds, who chaired a STEM task force, came to Ashford to deliver the bad news: There was no money in his annual education budget for a new STEM school. 

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Storefronts on a main street stand empty in Clinton, Iowa, a community that has lost more than one-third of its population in recent decades.

Governor Branstad then leaned over and asked Clem, “Have you thought about China?” From other state governors it might have been a throwaway line. But Branstad had spent decades cultivating trade and political ties to China, including to President Xi Jinping, who in 1985 led an official delegation to Iowa and returned as president of China in 2012. 

For his part, Clem had visited China many times on business trips and knew about the hunger for Western education. He began to work up a business proposal to woo Chinese investors. Two months later, newly elected President Trump picked Branstad as US ambassador to Beijing. 

“The stars were aligning for a China strategy,” says Clem. 


The Ashford campus was blanketed in snow in January 2017 when the first Chinese investors arrived. Below the hillside, the city of 26,000 spreads along the riverbank, its skyline defined by a giant corn processing plant with a coal storage facility encased in a golden dome. Other landmarks are less enticing. A vacant post office is one of dozens of abandoned and boarded-up buildings in a scruffy downtown hollowed out by economic slumps and population loss. 

This is the fate that Clinton was desperate to avoid for Ashford. “My goal was to keep the plywood off the windows,” says Norlin Mommsen, a Republican state representative. 

Clem and Clinton officials envisioned the creation of a private academy at Ashford for international students who would attend Clinton High School. The vision was a way to sidestep two major handicaps that districts face in enrolling international students. The first is that public high schools can enroll foreign students only for one year; private schools face no such limits. 

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Eason Yuan, a student from China, lies on his bed in the dorm at a Chinese-owned former college in Clinton. Chinese culture classes on campus supplement the students’ education at the local public high school.

The other is accommodation: Public schools don’t have dormitories and must rely on community homestays. Clinton had no student dorms. But it had a high school built for around 1,500 students with a current enrollment of less than 1,000.

“We have the space available. We can serve these [Chinese] kids,” says Mr. DeLacy, the superintendent. “Where else are you going to find an empty college campus that was basically in mint condition?” 

Clem had lined up five Chinese investors to purchase the school, but most were more interested in meeting Branstad than touring the campus, says Mr. Mommsen. Some of the visitors made snow angels in the drifts and took photos. None were ready to commit to Ashford. “Everyone kicked the tires and walked away,” says Clem. 

Then Clem heard about another potential buyer, Kong Lingtao, who ran two international schools in China and had bought a boarding school in England. He was actively looking to expand into the US. 

That Mr. Kong was scouring the country for shuttered schools to buy may seem an oddity. In fact, several have been sold in recent years to Chinese investors, including two colleges in New Hampshire. Jay Brennan, an education consultant in Maine who runs high school exchanges, says Chinese partners often ask if he knows of any US campuses for sale.

Kong seemed certain that he could find Chinese families who would pay top dollar for an international school that placed students in a US high school, supplemented by classes on a campus rooted in Chinese culture and philosophy.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Chinese students walk around the public high school they attend in Clinton. The town benefits from added racial diversity and a more populated high school, while the families pay out-of-state tuition for a coveted American education.

So last October Clinton Catalyst agreed to sell the main Ashford campus to Kong’s company, Confucius International Education Group (CIEG), for $12 million. Then in January Kong signed a one-year contract with the local school board to pay out-of-state tuition for 72 Chinese students to attend Clinton High School in 2018-19, with the promise of more to follow. “We can bring more international people to Clinton to make it more of an international town,” Kong told the board.

The school board voted 7 to 0 for the agreement. Eric Gettes, the board president, says the unanimity was about more than finances. “The opportunity for our kids to be exposed to someone from a different culture, to have a more global view of their education, was really exciting to us.” 


The sun is already setting when the white van pulls up to the international school’s steps. On board are four weary students who left China the previous day. Clem has organized a welcoming party. 

He wears sweatpants, a dark T-shirt, and a black baseball cap. On its brim is a pint-sized panda. Clem fusses over his fashionably dressed young charges, making sure their luggage is sent to the dorm. 

CIEG signed up only 15 students this semester. Regardless, it will pay tuition to Clinton for 72 slots, worth nearly $500,000, which will pay for five new teachers. CIEG officials say they expect a much bigger influx next year because they will have had more time to recruit. DeLacy expects enrollment to reach 300 within five years.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Chinese teens in Clinton, Iowa, live on a former college campus while attending public school here. The campus is owned by a Chinese investor who charges families $57,000 per child and is paying Clinton for 72 slots at the high school, worth nearly $500,000.

For now, the ratio of students to CIEG staff is almost one to one, and much of the campus feels like an empty historical site. Upstairs in the becalmed men’s dorm, Jack Yan glances at the cinder block walls in the room he will be sharing with another boy. His name is on the door. “This feels like home,” he says, wheeling his silver suitcase to the window. 

This is Jack’s second time here. In April, he was one of eight CIEG students who spent a week at Clinton High as a taste for what was coming. Now in 10th grade, he’s gregarious and jocular, an aspiring hip-hop musician. Back in April, when the projector froze during another student’s turn at a talent show, Jack, age 15, spontaneously grabbed a mike and roamed the auditorium, asking Clinton students and parents what they knew about China. 

After the talent show broke up, five local high-schoolers joined the visitors on the Ashford campus, shooting hoops in the gym and playing video games in their dorm. At midnight, Clem says he had to come out of his room to send everyone home. 

This is what CIEG, and by extension Clinton, is offering to Chinese parents: an authentic American high school experience, with all the social interactions and after-school hijinks that make up a teenage life. While Chinese students will live apart in their dorm, Clinton school officials say they will be fully integrated into sports and arts clubs and community events.

US school recruiters say Asian parents usually ask how many students from their country are enrolled. If the answer is none, some feel intimidated. But if the proportion is too high, then savvy parents may look elsewhere for a more balanced student body. 

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Teenagers from China eat lunch at a Mexican restaurant in Clinton, Iowa, a town of 26,000 people.

“The reason they send their kids to America is to have the American boarding school experience,” says Jeffrey Pilgrim, director of recruitment at The MacDuffie School in Granby, Mass., where Chinese make up nearly half of its 140 boarding students. “If there’s too many students from any one country, families don’t like that.” 


Ivy and her parents are shopping at Walmart, filling up a cart with towels and pillows and shampoo for her dorm room. As they wander the aisles, a middle-aged woman stops her cart to ask the family if they’re finding everything they need. She explains that she’s an elementary teacher and has heard all about Clinton’s newest students. “We’re so glad you’re here. Welcome,” she says.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Patrick Wang (l.) and Celine Wu, students from China, wait in a van after shopping for supplies for their dorm rooms at Walmart.


Ivy translates for her parents, who nod and smile. Her father is the general manager of an engineering company where her mother also works; Ivy, 16, is their only child.

A day later she joins the other Chinese students at Clinton High for an orientation. After a pep talk from the principal, student ambassadors guide the newbies to their lockers and classrooms. Sitting at a booth in the cafeteria, Ivy reflects on her academic path. “I think if I get into a pure American education earlier it will become more beneficial for me to go to university,” she says.

That means adjusting to US teaching and grading – CIEG uses a British curriculum – but also to its student culture, including the American slang and jokes that usually go over Ivy’s head. “The social aspect is very important. As international students, all of us are a little bit worried about making friends with local students,” she says. 

Prushia and others have talked excitedly about the football game and other festivities surrounding homecoming in Clinton, but the concept is fuzzy to Ivy. “They have a dance? And blah blah. I’m still not very clear,” she confesses. 

There’s no room for school dances in China’s education system, a grinding machine of rote memorization, test prep, and rigid instruction that leads inexorably to a single, two-day written test for seniors that determines Chinese university slots. 

Middle-class families seeking an alternative to this pressure cooker are drawn to the promise of a liberal Western education that pushes students to think creatively and independently. This is also seen as a path to success at a top college. CIEG’s brochures in China are sprinkled with the names of Western universities, from Harvard to Oxford to Stanford, to which students are expected to apply.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Eason Yuan, an international student from China, gets his student ID card on his first day of classes at Clinton High School.

The horizons of students at Clinton High are more modest. Of the roughly 30 percent of graduates who go on to four-year colleges, most stay in Iowa. A dozen or so go out of state to more selective schools, while the number of Ivy Leaguers is minuscule. 

What DeLacy hopes is that the seriousness of the Chinese students rubs off on their Clinton peers, while the school, flush with increasing tuition income, innovates and improves. “That’s a good pressure on us because we know we’ve got to hit a high bar,” he says.

As a bonus, Clinton High teachers will eventually be able to use seven state-of-the-art science labs at Ashford for their classwork. And there’s another, less tangible benefit that local proponents say is at the heart of their cooperation with CIEG: diversity. 

Clinton County is 92 percent white. A busload of Chinese students may suffice to double the Asian population. Where Clinton high-schoolers used to read about racial diversity and international trends, say school officials, now they can experience it firsthand without leaving home. 

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
A US flag is displayed on the tailgate of a truck in Clinton, Iowa, a town of 26,000.

“We’re going to learn from each other,” says Rita Hart, a Democratic state senator who is running for lieutenant governor. “It’s going to make us stronger and better.”


So far that promise has proved popular in Clinton. One discordant voice belongs to Gary Heath, a retired, Berkeley-trained sociologist who taught at Ashford and has a reputation as a local gadfly. Mr. Heath cites the risks of what he calls an “unprecedented social experiment.” Integrating a small number of foreign students is one thing, he says, but 300 or more would represent a quarter of Clinton High students, potentially creating intergroup rivalry. “This is not the way you bring a minority group together with a majority group,” he says. 

That scenario depends on a ready supply of Chinese parents willing to pay $57,000 for their children to attend Iowa’s 23rd-ranked high school, which may or may not be realized. There are signs that the boom in Chinese arrivals has slowed as a glut of schools in the US and other English-speaking countries target the same market. Wealthy Chinese also have more options at home, including elite boarding schools modeled on US prep schools and staffed by Americans. 

International students make up around 35 percent of all students at traditional boarding schools in the US and Canada, up from less than 20 percent just 15 years ago, says Peter Upham, who runs The Association of Boarding Schools. But that rapid growth, led by China, has stalled. “There is significant evidence that growth has flattened out and in some cases started to turn down,” he says. 

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Tiffany Yang, a student from China, has her ID photo taken at her new school in Clinton, Iowa.

Perceptions that the US is less welcoming to foreign students, along with a strong dollar, are blamed for declining international enrollment at US universities. While the trend predates Trump, his visa bans and anti-immigrant stance have deepened the slowdown.

On a warm Friday night, Ivy joins her classmates in the stands at Clinton High School’s stadium for the first home game of the season for the River Kings. It’s Ivy’s first time at a football game, and Prushia sits beside her in a sea of orange and black apparel to explain the rules of the game and, just as important, to show her how to encourage the home team. In a photo, Ivy and Prushia smile and make V shapes with their fingers. 

The River Kings defeated the visitors, 34-9. And Ivy went back to her dorm, another American high-school experience notched.


3. Student loans: a look at the trends and disparities

With about 1 in 4 American adults carrying student loan debt, college affordability may seem like a universal challenge. But emerging research suggests that students and families of color are disproportionately shouldering the burden.


The average student debt for US college graduates rose at a slower pace last year but still notched a new high – $28,650 – according to a recent report from the Institute for College Access and Success. The number of students with federal loans in default also rose to a record 8.9 million. These figures dovetail with new findings from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities released today that show average tuition increases at public universities have dramatically outpaced income growth since 2008. But the most striking trend in student debt may be a wide racial disparity in loan repayment, says Judith Scott-Clayton, professor of economics and education at Columbia University. “You almost can’t talk about student loan debt and student loan repayment without looking at the racial disparities, because the experiences are so dramatically different,” she says. African-American borrowers with bachelor’s degrees are almost four times as likely to default as their white counterparts. One factor is that average family wealth tends to be lower for black borrowers, analysts say. Another is disproportionate attendance at for-profit schools, which are more likely to produce loan defaulters. Those disparities are driving some efforts to reform loan collection, including a bipartisan task force investigating outcomes for students of color and a push among several states and cities to more strictly regulate schools. – Noble Ingram

SOURCE: (TOP) 2018 calculations by the Institute for College Access & Success based on data from National Center for Education Statistics, Peterson's Undergraduate Financial Aid and Undergraduate Databases. (BOTTOM) NCES, Beginning Postsecondary Students Longitudinal Study
Jacob Turcotte and Noble Ingram/Staff

4. She bears witness to South Sudan's turbulence, one headline at a time

The obstacles reporters face in doing their work – the stories behind their stories – can say just as much about a country’s concerns and challenges as the articles they produce.

Ryan Lenora Brown/The Christian Science Monitor
Anna Nimiriano leads a morning news meeting at the Juba Monitor. She is the first female editor in chief in the South Sudanese newspaper's history.

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Anna Nimiriano, the editor in chief of the Juba Monitor, spends some days bartering with soldiers to let her colleagues out of jail. Others, she’s haggling over the price of petrol needed to keep the office generator running. Over the course of South Sudan’s five-year civil war, Ms. Nimiriano has sat watch over a paper that is both a record of the young country’s immense turmoil and an institution struggling to withstand it. Although South Sudan’s Constitution provides for press freedom, the government has little patience for critics – especially when they come armed with microphones and notebooks. “Freedom of the press does not mean you work against the country,” President Salva Kiir told journalists in August 2015. “If anybody among them (journalists) does not know that this country has killed people, we will demonstrate it one day, one time.” At least seven journalists have been murdered since the start of the war. But Nimiriano tries to keep her eyes on what’s ahead. “Sometimes, when you see so much going wrong, you realize there is nothing you can do but write it down,” she says. “Every day, you must write it down.”


She bears witness to South Sudan's turbulence, one headline at a time

On the bottom shelves of a slumping metal cabinet, beneath a wad of receipts and a lifeless old laptop, sits a first draft of South Sudan’s history, told in bold print headlines.

Like the history it has recorded, the archives of the Juba Monitor are jumbled and missing crucial pages. The issues jammed into the cabinet lurch between tales of civil war and stories of peace agreements being hammered out in faraway cities. Some copies are ripped. Some dates are missing outright. But those that remain tell the story of a brand-new country’s brisk undoing, observed from the inside.


These are not the headlines Anna Nimiriano imagined writing when, as a young reporter in July 2011, she wandered through downtown Juba the day South Sudan became independent from Sudan, asking anyone who would stop for their views of the country’s future.

Strange women hugged her. Men wept. Her notebooks filled with an earnest, unpunctured optimism. This will be a great country, they said. I am proud to be a South Sudanese. The future is beautiful.

Ryan Lenora Brown/The Christian Science Monitor
The archives of the Juba Monitor, stored in a cabinet in the paper's offices in South Sudan's capital, hold the first draft of the young country's history.

But seven years later, as the editor in chief of one of the country’s most circulated English-language newspapers, Ms. Nimiriano sits watch over a paper that is both a record of the country’s immense turmoil and an institution struggling to withstand it.

Some days, that means bartering with soldiers to let her colleagues out of jail. On others, it means haggling over the price of petrol needed to keep the office generator running. Sometimes, her biggest fight is to drive home in the evening without being stopped by soldiers at roadblocks, who are sometimes swaying and smelling of alcohol. She must be a prostitute, they taunt – no good woman would be out so late on her own.

Five years ago, a rivalry between President Salva Kiir and his deputy, Riek Machar, spiraled into a brutal civil war which, by one count, has killed 380,000 people in a population of just 12 million. One third of the population has been displaced. 

“Sometimes, when you see so much going wrong, you realize there is nothing you can do but write it down,” she says. “Every day, you must write it down.”


But writing down what is happening in South Sudan is not a simple task. Despite a constitution that provides for press freedom, in practice the country’s government has had little patience for its critics – especially when they come armed with microphones and notebooks. Today, the country ranks 144th out of 180 countries on the Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders. At least seven journalists have been murdered – either in the course of their work or in targeted assassinations – since the start of the civil war in 2013.

“Freedom of the press does not mean you work against the country,” Mr. Kiir told journalists in August 2015. “If anybody among them (journalists) does not know that this country has killed people, we will demonstrate it one day, one time.”

Some mornings, the Juba Monitor staff would arrive in the office to find that one of their stories had simply been cut out of the paper, a mute, blank page left in its wake. Most of the time, that meant Nimiriano had received a call late the previous night from the country’s security forces, who waited each evening at the printer’s office to read the next day’s paper. When they didn’t like something, they’d tell her it was out. No discussion.

There was no discussion either when Nimiriano, then the paper’s managing editor, and her boss Alfred Taban were summoned for questioning by the country’s security forces in July 2016. The article that had drawn their ire was an opinion column by Mr. Taban that called for the resignation of the country’s president and vice president, after fighting between forces loyal to the two left dozens dead in the capital the week before.

By the time the meeting was over, Mr. Taban had been arrested. And Nimiriano was told to shut the paper down immediately.

Outside, rebels were spraying the walls of the presidential palace with bullets. On the city’s edge, government soldiers swarmed a hotel complex, gang raping several women and executing a young journalist named John Gatluak Nhial – allegedly for his ethnicity.

But two days later, Nimiriano marched back to the prison. “It doesn’t help anything to close the paper,” she told the officials who had arrested Taban. “And our editor is a sick man. If he dies, that will be on your conscience.”

Soon after, the government gave the go-ahead for the paper to re-open. Ten days later, Taban came out of prison. (The following year, he left journalism for politics and is now a member of parliament.) The fighting, meanwhile, slowly receded from the capital.

And so, as always, the paper carried on.


Day-to-day, however, the paper’s more prosaic problems continued.

In August 2017, a massive fuel shortage gripped Juba. No petrol meant no generators, and no generators meant the Monitor’s printer couldn’t print. For several days, the paper stopped production. Soon after, Nimiriano was appointed editor in chief. 

Meanwhile, the country’s currency continued a long tumble. By June 2018, the paper cost 100 South Sudanese pounds – 50 times the price at independence seven years earlier. To keep up with rising costs, Nimiriano cut circulation from 2,000 copies daily to 1,500.

“Sometimes there is a risk of focusing on all the problems around you instead of the work at hand,” she says.

Ryan Lenora Brown/The Christian Science Monitor
The Juba Monitor takes strict security precautions, including 24-hour security, to discourage individuals and government officials from threatening its reporters.

And so, as best she can, she tries not to think of the five men with pistols who came recently to her office to threaten her over an error in a story about the military. She tries not to think of the time, driving home, when a soldier forced her from her car on a black stretch of road and made her kneel in the mud, demanding to know what kind of woman she was. She doesn’t think, either, of the whispers that ran through the newsroom when she became the Monitor’s first female editor a year ago. Or of the incredulousness that courses through her daily as she reads incoming stories about the hunger and death that stalk the civil war, as she thinks of her own childhood memories of fleeing, of life in tented camps, of praying for independence. She tries not to wonder too often, is this what our country fought for, when we battled for decades for independence?

Instead, Nimiriano does her best to keep her eyes on what’s ahead of her. On a recent morning in August, at the daily staff news meeting, there was stories about the Muslim festival of Eid and the government releasing results for secondary-school exit exams. Twelve hundred miles away, in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum, South Sudan’s leaders were negotiating for peace. There would be a story on that, too. And after that, on whatever came next.


Support for the reporting of this story was provided by the International Women’s Media Foundation.


5. Slice of life: A reporter's search for knives in Beijing

As a young reporter in Beijing in the 1980s, Ann Scott Tyson became a fan of the caidao, a hefty Chinese knife. Today, with knives tightly regulated, her search for a caidao opened a window on a society in flux.


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The caidao, or “vegetable knife,” is not just any knife. In Chinese cooking, it’s really the only knife. Although the cleaver-like tool looks unwieldy, it expertly handles delicate work like peeling ginger, crushing garlic, or scooping up food to toss in the wok. A caidao convert since living in China after college, I am convinced that other knives, quite literally, can’t cut it. So two days after landing back in Beijing, I am wandering through a bustling supermarket like a child in a candy shop, snatching up supplies I need to cook favorite dishes, including a knife. But the tool’s mere mention brings an unexpectedly blunt response. “What do you want to do, kill someone?!” a uniformed store clerk replies. In recent years, the Communist Party has cracked down on knives in response to some high-profile knife attacks and stabbings. Procuring one, I’m told, involves registering your name and ID number, along with the model and quantity of knives bought – and you can’t buy them just anywhere. So I head into the throngs of holiday shoppers, as the Chinese kick off Golden Week. Knowing millions of chefs here rely on their caidao, I decide I must track one down.


Slice of life: A reporter's search for knives in Beijing

Two days after landing back in China, I am wandering through a bustling Beijing supermarket like a child in a candy shop, snatching up the spices and fresh ingredients I need to cook favorite Chinese dishes.

The mood in the market is equally festive, as it is the eve of China’s Oct. 1 National Day and the “Golden Week” holiday – a rare official seven-day respite from work. Fellow shoppers go out of their way to help this Mandarin-speaking American find the silkiest variety of tofu, the fragrant (but not too costly) rice, and the spiciest bean paste. Having lived in Beijing and Hong Kong as a young reporter, I’d learned to love homestyle Chinese food.

The last thing I need for the meal is a Chinese chef’s knife, or caidao – the cleaver-like tool ubiquitous in Chinese kitchens. But the mere mention of the knife brings an unexpectedly blunt response from the store’s uniformed clerk.

“No, no knives!” she exclaims.

Surprised, I ask again, only to be directed to an aisle with a few small fruit knives. This must be a misunderstanding.

“Sorry, but I’d like to buy a caidao,” I persist, drawing a sketch of the large, rectangular chopper.

“What do you want to do, kill someone?!” the clerk replies. “Kitchen knives are a restricted product!”

My dinner plan thwarted, I pay for my groceries and leave. Walking back to my apartment, I think about how differently governments across the world regulate weapons, or could-be weapons, from the free-wheeling gun laws of the United States to the strict controls of Japan. Then there are places like Iraq, where as a war correspondent in the aughts I covered a ceasefire accord between rival Sunni and Shiite religious sects that imposed a limit of 10 AK-47s per mosque.

For its part, China’s Communist Party has largely prohibited civilian gun ownership since taking power in 1949, and in recent years has cracked down on knives in response to some high-profile knife attacks and stabbings.

Still, kitchen knives? What’s a Chinese homemaker to do?

The caidao is not just any knife – in Chinese cooking it’s really the only knife. Known as the “secret weapon” of Chinese chefs, the caidao, despite its crude appearance, is not a butchering tool but a highly versatile all-around knife. Its weight makes slicing, chopping, and mincing easy and fast. Although it looks unwieldy, the caidao, which translates as “vegetable knife,” expertly handles delicate work such as peeling ginger. Its large flat side is useful for crushing garlic to loosen the skin and scooping up food to toss in the wok.

The caidao is especially vital in a country where chopsticks have been the main eating utensil for 2,000 years, since the Han Dynasty, requiring food to be cut up in the kitchen and served in bite-sized pieces. (Confucius was said to scorn the presence of knives at the table.)

A caidao convert since living here after college, I am convinced that other knives, quite literally, can’t cut it. Knowing that millions of Chinese feel the same way, I decide I must track one down.

The next day, National Day, I join a throng of Chinese stepping into a subway station to head to Wangfujing Street – Beijing’s main shopping thoroughfare. After sliding my purse through the mandatory metal detector, I pass a photo display of items riders are forbidden to carry on the metro. Prominent in the top row is a caidao. If my mission succeeds, I will not be returning by subway.

Wangfujing is jammed with holiday shoppers and tourists from other provinces, many of them carrying little red Chinese flags. Some munch roasted ears of corn. Others snap photos of giant flower arrangements, reminiscent of parade floats, set up by the government as holiday displays at major intersections. Police wearing sunglasses and black uniforms patrol in formation, toting riot shields.

I enter the Beijing Mall, a vast, seven-story complex, and approach the information desk.

“Excuse me, where can I buy a caidao?” I ask a young woman wearing a white blouse and kerchief.

“We don’t sell any knives here,” she says, not missing a beat.

“Could you tell me where I can find one?” I ask.

“I’m not clear about that,” she replies. Nothing, not even a lead.

Further up the street at a Chinese arts and crafts store, my query about knives elicits only a nervous burst of laughter from a male clerk.

My next stop is the Beijing Department Store, a longtime fixture on Wangfujing. In the early post-Mao era, grumpy clerks in padded jackets sold basic Chinese products such as cotton undershirts and bedding. But today it’s more like Macy’s, filled with the scent of foreign perfume as well as designer fashions, watches, and other luxury goods. On the fifth floor, amid Italian pots and French casseroles, I find a German knife store. There, in a locked cabinet, is an expensive German version of a caidao.

Surely, I think, few Chinese would buy such a pricey foreign knife. But when I ask the clerk where I can obtain an ordinary Chinese caidao, she pushes back.

“No Chinese supermarkets sell these knives. They are restricted. You have to buy them in special stores and register with your identity card,” she reveals, pulling out a brown paper ledger from the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau.

The ledger records the names and ID card numbers of purchasers, along with the date, model numbers, and quantity of knives bought. In my case, I would be required to submit my passport. I decide to hold out for an authentic Chinese knife.

Just then, a bystander, having overheard the conversation, steps in. Pulling out a map, he directs me to a shop about a mile away, and I trudge off again across town.

Finally, I arrive at the address and find a small, one-story knife and scissors shop, with a traditional red-lattice window and a sign with gold characters. Stepping inside, I find a display case full of affordable caidao made by one of Beijing’s oldest knife-makers, with origins 200 years ago in the Qing Dynasty.

A low-key attendant explains the knifemaker adds an extra middle layer of steel to keep the caidao sharp. “These will last 20 or 30 years,” she says. I pick out one of the larger Shuangshizi (Double Cross) brand models, 12 inches long with a 7-by-4-inch blade. Described on the box as “mighty and sharp,” the weight feels just right in my hand. A bit carried away, I buy three.

Posted on the wall are official regulations requiring makers of guns, knives, explosives, and other dangerous goods to track their products, and a police announcement offering rewards to citizens who report suspicious persons and help prevent attacks.

Still, after I pay for the knives, the saleswoman says I don’t have to register.

“We only register people when there’s a big meeting going on in Beijing,” she says with a smile. Although it is National Day, with China’s top leaders appearing in ceremonies in Tiananmen Square, I don’t question her decision. With the knives in hand and the scent of Chinese stir-fry in the air, I smile and head home, on foot.


The Monitor's View

Britain’s nudge on screen time for kids

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Britain has been a leader in warning about the effects of excessive screen time on children and youths. Last week, its health secretary, Matt Hancock, said the government would soon issue an official “guidance” for parents to help them ensure healthy online limits for their kids. While Mr. Hancock welcomes the tech industry’s moves to provide tools for parents, he says they do not go far enough or, in the case of age limits, are not well enforced. Government now needs to set a norm for society, at the least. And parents, for their part, need to find a balance between encouraging the benefits of digital devices – such as new ways of learning – and preventing the negative effects. Parents can emphasize what the internet does best. Last summer, Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder of Facebook, wrote a letter to his new daughter, August, about the many fun activities ahead for her. “The world can be a serious place,” he wrote. “That’s why it’s important to make time to go outside and play.” Perhaps that bit of wisdom will be included in the coming guidance in Britain.


Britain’s nudge on screen time for kids

In recent years, Britain has been a nag on the world stage in warning about the effects of excessive “screen time” on children and young people. Now it wants to go from nag to nudge.

Last week, its health secretary, Matt Hancock, said the government would soon issue an official “guidance” for parents to help them ensure healthy limits for their kids in using social media and controlling their access to online sites.

He suggested one bit of guidance would likely be turning off phones when children go to bed. “As a parent you want to be able to say, ‘The rules say you shouldn’t use social media for more than a certain period of time’,” he said. An estimated 1 in 5 young people wakes in the night to check messages on social media.

While Mr. Hancock welcomes the tech industry’s recent moves to provide new tools for parents, he says they do not go far enough or, in the case of age limits, are not well enforced. Government now needs to step up as a watchdog and, at the least, set a norm for society. Too much screen time can create feelings of isolation for many teens and unrealistic expectations about themselves, some studies find.

The government’s guidance might actually be welcomed among young people. A British survey last year of 14- to 24-year-olds found 56 percent said they are likely to quit social media out of a concern for their mental well-being. More than 70 percent support a pop-up warning about excessive time on social media.

Parents do need to find a balance between encouraging the benefits of digital devices for kids, such as new ways of learning, and preventing the negative effects. Each family is different in designating tech-free times. And parents know best the capacity of their children to self-regulate and protect themselves.

Rather than being always cautious, parents can emphasize what the internet does best. “We should promote children’s critical spirit and their ability to analyze and distance themselves from over-using their phones,” Rachel Delacour, co-president of industry body France Digitale, told the Financial Times.

Last summer, Mark Zuckerberg, cofounder of Facebook, wrote a letter to his new daughter, August, in which he spoke about the many fun activities ahead for her. He did not mention social media. “The world can be a serious place,” he wrote. “That’s why it’s important to make time to go outside and play.”

Perhaps that bit of wisdom will be included in the coming “guidance” in Britain. Another survey there found children now play outside half the time that their parents did when they were children. A nudge to get them outdoors can only help them see themselves on a larger screen of life.


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.

Finding freedom after the shock of an aggressive encounter

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After a fellow college student drunkenly tried to force himself into her room, today’s contributor found peace, strength, and freedom from lingering anxiety as she gained a new view of herself as God’s loved child.


Finding freedom after the shock of an aggressive encounter

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He was a handsome senior and I was a naive freshman when we met at a fall college mixer. I was flattered that he invited me, a shy girl from the Midwest, to visit him at his school. At the time we were both attending single-sex colleges in the Northeast, and it was common for young women to travel to men’s colleges for the weekend.

The first weekend I visited him, he acted very respectfully, including finding me a respectable place to stay. But the next weekend turned into a very unfortunate, frightening experience; he was drunk, and I only just managed to avert his attempt to force himself into my motel room.

I was deeply shaken by what happened and was grateful I’d been able to fend off his aggressive advances. But this experience, along with the shyness and other jumbled feelings at the time (loneliness, confusion, anxiety, and difficulty in adjusting to college) led me to frequently call home in tears.

Finally, during one call, some thoughts shared by my dad gave me confidence that comfort and healing could be found by looking deeper for a solution. I began going to a Christian Science Sunday School, which I had sporadically attended in my youth. I also participated in a Christian Science group on campus, in which we supported each other in learning about our relation to God, shared how God was guiding us, and found inspiration in our friendships. And I began a thorough read of the Christian Science textbook, Mary Baker Eddy’s “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” which along with the Bible was helping me and my newfound friends put God first in our lives.

Given the nature of my experience that weekend, I couldn’t help thinking about the effects of alcohol on one’s ability to think and control oneself. During this time of great seeking, I was discovering that God loves me and everyone, and that we are all created in His spiritual image and likeness. This understanding helped me feel and express an authentic sense of peace and strength – not the temporary, counterfeit facsimile that I felt was all that alcohol could offer.

Progress, I was learning, comes through freedom from such sensuality, not its indulgence. For instance, it’s important to be able to think clearly if we’re grappling with painful issues. We need to be able to hear the lasting answers that God’s love and direction can supply, and I realized drugs and alcohol only keep us from hearing the voice of our Father-Mother God. I wanted to learn to be free and demonstrate real dominion over my shyness and the anxiety that had lingered from the encounter with the other student.

As I prayed, I began to see the wonderful benefits of striving to be more focused on God. As I understood God better, I found answers to the many issues that were plaguing me at college, including that feeling of being so shaken. Over the years of continuing to prioritize the understanding and expression of God in my life, I have also found myself foreseeing danger before I am potentially victimized. In a book called “The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany,” Mrs. Eddy quotes a passage from the Bible: “Be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16). She goes on to explain, “Wisdom is won through faith, prayer, experience; and God is the giver” (p. 205).

My experience with the drunken student was emotionally painful, so I am deeply grateful to have been able to put that behind me through the new view of myself I’ve gained from turning to God. I am so grateful for the divine source of all joy, inspiration, wisdom, and progress, which is freely available to all.



Cool concentration

Anthony Anex/Keystone/AP
Professional golfer Rory McIlroy, from Northern Ireland, plays the ball during an exhibition event on the Aletsch glacier, 3,454 meters above sea level, in Jungfraujoch, Switzerland, Oct. 4.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris. )

In Our Next Issue

( October 5th, 2018 )

Noelle Swan
Deputy Daily Editor

Thanks for spending time with us today. Come back tomorrow, when Monitor economics reporter Laurent Belsie digs into how President Trump's tax reform is likely to encourage more aggressive tax avoidance reminiscent of what he and his family allegedly employed during the 1990s.

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