Rethink the News

Perspective matters.

Reducing news to hard lines and side-taking leaves a lot of the story untold. Progress comes from challenging what we hear and considering different views.

Noelle Swan
Science Editor

When was the last time you sat alone in silence?

From smartphones to 24-hour news cycles, we are more connected than ever. But around the globe, people are seeking new ways to reconnect with themselves.

In South Korea, some overworked residents are trading in their cellphones for a chance to spend a day or two in a 54-square-foot prison cell, with nothing but with a tea set, a yoga mat, a notebook, and the promise of silence.

It may seem odd to not only consent to being locked in prison but to pay for it. But the lure of solitude isn’t unique to those in South Korea. In the United States, a cottage industry of tiny homes in the wilderness is thriving, as overstimulated Americans seek a chance to disconnect. In Japan, “forest bathers” have sought sensory vacations since the 1980s.

These seekers of solitude are in good company. Silicon Valley consultant Julia Lipton celebrated her 29th birthday with 10 days of silent meditation in a Buddhist monastery. Novelist Cheryl Strayed’s personal and physical journey through 1,100 miles of solitude along the Pacific Crest Trail formed the basis of the bestselling memoir and film “Wild.”

Extreme pursuits of silence and solitude can indeed be transformative. But so can smaller acts of reflection, whether you call it mindfulness, meditation, or prayer. All it takes is a few moments to value yourself.


Now on to our five stories for today, which include three distinct examinations of leadership – in global politics, in the US Congress, and in British Parliament.

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1. At G20 summit, all eyes on Trump-Xi. Sign of a new world order?

The multilateral international order the United States built gave birth to the Group of 20 industrialized countries. But the G20 summit this weekend must contend with President Trump’s bilateral preferences.

Thomas White/Reuters

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President Trump’s meeting this weekend with China’s Xi Jinping – with the future of the US-China trade war on the line – is expected to steal the show at the G20 summit in Buenos Aires. It’s emblematic of Mr. Trump’s bilateral style, which will be manifest in other one-on-one meetings with world leaders. It’s not good news for the summit host, Argentine President Mauricio Macri. He was banking on a more multilateral meeting to showcase Argentina’s opening up to a globalizing world, and to garner international investment to help turn Argentina’s economy around. Mr. Macri’s summit, organized around such global themes as the impact of technology in the workplace and securing a sustainable food future, seems out of step with geopolitical trends. But Macri seems to have hopped aboard the multilateralism train just as some high-powered passengers were getting off. Does Trump’s preference for bilateral deals spell the end of multilateralism? “If we get through this weekend with a series of bilaterals with no real agreement on the [summit] communiqué or a watered down communiqué, it will show that multilateralism is dormant at the moment but not necessarily dead,” says Thomas Wright at the Brookings Institution in Washington.


At G20 summit, all eyes on Trump-Xi. Sign of a new world order?

When world leaders came together for the first Group of 20 summit of the world’s industrialized economies in 2008, the task at hand was to unite in addressing the global economic crisis hitting large and small countries alike.

The G20 summit, with a tip of the cap to the growing importance of emerging economies, joined the constellation of multilateral forums and institutions set up to allow world leaders to come together to hash out responses to global economic challenges.

But that was so 2008.  

The G20 summit that kicks off in Buenos Aires Friday – to be held along a stretch of the Argentine capital fronting Río de la Plata and to include a glittering evening of Argentine culture in the city’s famed Teatro Colón – seems certain to underscore that while multilateralism may not be dead, it is in retreat.

With nationalist Donald Trump at the helm of the superpower that built and nurtured the post-World War II international system, the kind of multilateralism that gave birth to the G20 has been increasingly supplanted by bilateral relations and big-power encounters.

One result of that trend is that at this weekend’s summit, all eyes will be on the one-on-ones President Trump will hold with China’s Xi Jinping and a handful of other leaders, including a “pull-aside” (not a formal sit-down meeting) with South Korean President Moon Jae-in (topic: North Korea) and a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel (topic: Russia’s latest provocative action toward Ukraine).

Indeed, Trump had been set to sit down with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the summit sidelines, but Trump called off the meeting Thursday, citing US rejection of Russia’s seizure over the weekend of Ukrainian vessels and crew members in the Azov Sea off Crimea. Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in 2014, prompting US sanctions on Russia.

Still, for many international economists and geopolitical analysts, it is the Trump-Xi meeting that will dominate everything else. With the future of the US-China trade war on the line, some are billing the Trump-Xi encounter as the most consequential in years between the leaders of the two economic behemoths.

The inability to reach at least a cease-fire if not the outlines of a resolution for the trade war would put a damper on the entire summit, trade analysts say.

Problem with the prince

A last-minute challenge to the summit’s multilateral pretenses came with the surprise decision of embattled Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to attend the gathering – thus confronting growing global outrage over his handling of the war in Yemen and the Saudi government murder of Saudi dissident and journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Suddenly a big question hovering over the leaders’ gathering is who will accept to stand aside the prince in the traditional family photo? Will Trump double down on his all-in approach to US-Saudi relations by shaking hands with the crown prince?

In any case, Trump appeared to rule out meeting with the prince in Buenos Aires, telling reporters Thursday before departing the White House for the summit that “I would have met with him, but ... we just didn’t have time.”

Natacha Pisarenko/AP
A security guard stands outside the G20 summit venue at the Costa Salguero Center in Buenos Aires, Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2018. Thousands of police and security agents will guard Group of 20 industrialized nations' world leaders during the two-day meeting that starts Friday.

With such bilateral matters taking center stage, any summit-wide consensus or final statement will be lucky to get also-ran billing. Such a relegation of attention, analysts say, will further demonstrate the current shift away from global accords and cooperation.

“If we get through this weekend with a series of bilaterals with no real agreement on the [summit] communique or a watered down communique, it will show that multilateralism is dormant at the moment but not necessarily dead,” says Thomas Wright, a senior fellow in the Project on International Order and Strategy at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

Adds Brookings colleague David Dollar, a leading expert in China’s economy and economic globalization, “I don’t think we should write the obituary of the multilateral system just yet, but it is reasonable to ask whether or not the system can survive very long without active US participation.”

That question lies behind the keen interest in what transpires at Saturday’s dinner tête-à-tête between Trump and Mr. Xi.

The immediate issue will be the US-China trade war, and whether or not the two leaders can reach some sort of deal – something White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said Tuesday is a “good possibility.” One possibility is that the US could agree to hold off on a new round of tariffs on Chinese goods in exchange for a Chinese commitment to buy more products “Made in USA.”

Discomfort over ‘us or them’

But the broader question world leaders and experts alike will be asking – one that certainly won’t be answered this weekend, but about which the Trump-Xi dinner may provide some hints – is where the intensifying competition is headed between a rising global power and a superpower seen by many to be in retreat.

“There is certainly a new, more considered effort by the Trump administration to signal a tougher and more comprehensive pushback against China,” says Matthew Goodman, senior adviser for Asian economics at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

But he says much of the world, and specifically the Asian-Pacific region most effected, is “uncomfortable” with the stark “us or them” choice the Trump administration is increasingly presenting on economic cooperation, investment, and security issues.

Across Asia in particular, “they are expecting the US to play a constructive role across all those fronts,” Mr. Goodman says, “but not to do that in a way that forces a kind of stark choice between ... supporting the US and supporting China.”

Goodman notes that both the resistance to the Trump administration’s “pick a partner” approach to relations with China and the accelerated weakening of multilateral institutions could be seen in the APEC (Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation) summit attended not by Trump but by Vice President Mike Pence in Papua New Guinea earlier this month.

Argentina paying the price

Mr. Pence laid out a confrontational approach to China and warned countries of the dangers of choosing a “one-way” (meaning self-interested) China, and in the end a dispute over trade language left the summit to conclude with “no APEC communique for the first time in 25 years,” Goodman says.

The flagging of multilateralism and the weekend’s focus on big-power bilateral relations is not good news for summit host Argentina.

President Mauricio Macri, confronting an economic crisis at home, is relying on international financial support and investment to help turn Argentina’s economy around. And he envisioned hosting the G20 summit – which gathers countries representing 85 percent of global economic output – as a way to showcase a traditionally protectionist Argentina’s opening-up to a globalizing world.

But Mr. Macri’s summit, organized around such global themes as “the future of work” and the impact of technology in the workplace, public-private infrastructure investment strategies, and securing a sustainable food future, seems out of step with geopolitical trends.

“Macri wanted this summit to be about multilateralism, because he needs the world’s financial cooperation and Argentina trading with the world if his plan to turn the economy around is going to work,” says Juan Luis Bour, chief economist at FIEL, the Foundation for Latin American Economic Studies, in Buenos Aires. 

But Macri seems to have hopped aboard the multilateralism train just as some high-powered passengers were getting off, Mr. Bour adds, so “this summit will not be about multilateralism, and Macri will have to adjust his objectives and wait for another meeting with better conditions.”

Filling the void

Indeed, Bour joins others, like Mr. Wright, the senior Brookings fellow, in concluding that while multilateralism may be down, it is not out.

The US under Trump may be backing away from its leadership of the multilateral system, Mr. Dollar says, but others are coming forward to fill the void.

“As the US has withdrawn from some of these multilateral efforts, other countries have stepped up,” Dollar says. He notes Japan’s “leading role” in keeping the Trans-Pacific Partnership alive after Trump pulled the US out of it in 2017, and how China is pushing forward with its trade agreement among APEC countries and sticking to the Paris climate accords.

The European Union is pursuing a trade accord with South America’s Mercosur countries, which include Argentina. French President Emmanuel Macron was expected to have negotiations of that pact at the top of his agenda when he met with Macri Thursday.

Even the US – perhaps anxious not to appear totally divorced from its traditional role as leader of multilateral institutions and efforts – was expected to use the Buenos Aires summit to join Canada and Mexico in a signing of the updated NAFTA, renamed the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.

But it remained unclear if the signing would be done by the three countries’ leaders, or if they would delegate the task to senior officials. After all, Trump has made it amply clear that while he prizes his bilateral relations with Xi, and Mr. Putin, and even with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, he does not include Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau among his favorites.


2. Why the lower tier of Democratic leaders is worth watching

Leadership is often steeped in lengthy experience. That is certainly the case for the three lawmakers selected to lead House Democrats. But amid growing demand for generational change, they also elevated some new faces.


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House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi has been widely criticized for clogging the leadership pipeline. But she has also worked to create more positions and widen the decisionmaking circle to include newer members. And while the top three leaders chosen by Democrats this week will be the same folks who have been running things for more than a decade – Ms. Pelosi, Steny Hoyer, and James Clyburn – at some point this troika will step aside and the next generation will step up. That’s why it’s worth focusing on the winners of the lower-rung positions on the leadership ladder. Among the rising stars is Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, a 48-year-old African-American from New York who used a previous Pelosi-created position as a springboard to his new role as chair of the caucus, the No. 5 job for Democrats. He is often talked about as a potential future speaker. Indeed, the group of leaders elected this week is, as Pelosi sometimes calls her colleagues, a “kaleidoscope” – not unlike the diverse Americans who handed Democrats the steering wheel in the House this fall. Here’s a look at some of the newest members of the Democratic leadership team.


1. Why the lower tier of Democratic leaders is worth watching

Even before Wednesday’s election results were announced, House Democrats knew who their top three leaders would be. It’s the same folks who have been running things for more than a decade – Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer, and James Clyburn. All pushing 80 years old, they all ran unopposed, with more than three-quarters of the Democratic caucus nominating leader Pelosi to be the next speaker of the House.

Ms. Pelosi still has to win over more supporters when the whole House votes for speaker on Jan. 3. But at some point – and critics hope it’s sooner rather than later – this troika will step aside and the next generation will step up. That’s why it’s worth focusing on the winners of the lower-rung positions on the leadership ladder. Usually, only political junkies are curious about these folks, and that’s been especially true for the past eight years that House Democrats have wandered in a political wilderness as the minority power.

Not anymore. While Pelosi has been criticized for clogging the pipeline, she has also worked to create more leadership positions and widen the decision-making circle to include newer members. Among the rising stars is Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, an African-American from New York, who used one of those previous Pelosi-created positions as a springboard to his new role as chair of the caucus – the No. 5 job. He’s often talked about as a potential future speaker. 

“I think the brilliance of Leader Pelosi was always the ability to create more seats at the leadership table,” says former Democratic Rep. Steve Israel of New York, who once occupied one of those seats. “Rather than being exclusive, she was inclusive. Even in the minority, she found a way to bring people into the conference room for leadership settings and ensure they made valuable contributions.”

Of course, standard bearers can emerge from places other than these slots – chairmanships or caucus leaders. For instance, South Carolina’s Congressman Clyburn, now the chief vote counter, or “whip” (the No. 3 slot), began his ascent as chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus. 

But the Democratic lawmakers who were elected this week had to make their case before all of their political peers, and those peers took a definite generational turn, electing people in their 50s and 40s, progressive and moderate, minorities and women.

The group is, as Pelosi calls sometimes calls her legislative colleagues, a “kaleidoscope” – not unlike the diverse Americans who handed Democrats the steering wheel in the House this fall.

Here is a look at some of the newest members of the Democratic leadership team.

Ben Ray Luján, assistant Democratic leader

These days, it’s not unusual for Rep. Ben Ray Luján’s name to come up in talk about the 2018 elections. As the first Latino to chair the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), the New Mexico congressman helped raise and direct the funds that ultimately led to the party’s House takeover.

He cemented his place in the national spotlight on Election Night when he stood with Pelosi to celebrate the victory. The next day, he launched his bid for assistant Democratic leader, the No. 4 spot in the caucus (he ran uncontested).

J. Scott Applewhite/AP
Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D) of New Mexico, the outgoing chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, will be the new assistant Democratic leader, the No. 4 leadership slot.

Congressman Luján also plays up his humbler roots: How his grandfather was a sheep herder and his father an ironworker before becoming speaker of the New Mexico House. The 46-year-old Luján himself worked nights as a blackjack dealer at a tribal casino until he got his college degree in 2007.

Luján got his start in politics in 2002 as New Mexico’s deputy treasurer. In 2008, he ran for the Third District, which then-Rep. Tom Udall vacated to run for the US Senate. This will be his sixth term. 

Hakeem Jeffries, caucus chair 

Democrats opted for generational change when they elected Rep. Hakeem Jeffries to be their caucus chair – the fifth-highest position in leadership, and one that will put the ambitious congressman in the room where the important decisions are made. Some in the caucus speculate that this rising star could eventually become the first African-American speaker of the House.

Congressman Jeffries, who hails from Brooklyn, in New York, and is just finishing up his third term, has been a fierce critic of President Trump. But he emphasizes consensus-building among the most diverse caucus in history (a “gorgeous mosaic” he calls it), and the need to work with the president where possible. In college, his fraternity brothers nicknamed him “Kool Ha” for his measured speaking.

He narrowly beat the far more experienced and left-leaning Rep. Barbara Lee of California, who is the former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus (Jeffries is a member of the caucus). Congresswoman Lee told reporters after the vote that she felt ageism and sexism had played a role.

Still, Lee supporters like African-American Rep. Frederica Wilson of Florida said they were pleased that a black member who is “young enough, smart enough, and has the respect of the caucus” is in a top slot that could some day lead to the speakership. “This is almost like President Obama’s inauguration!” said Congresswoman Wilson from underneath her trademark star-spangled cowboy hat.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D) of New York, meets with reporters after being elected chairman of the House Democratic Caucus for the 116th Congress, at the Capitol in Washington, Nov. 28, 2018.

With support from Pelosi, Jeffries was elected in 2016 to one of three new co-chairmanships that she created to hone the Democrats’ election messaging. He calls himself a “pragmatic progressive” – a pro-union Democrat with experience as a corporate attorney.

The congressman’s passion is criminal justice reform and economic inequality, and he is a top cosponsor of the bipartisan prison reform bill that lawmakers on both sides are trying to push through this lame-duck session. He served in the New York State Assembly for six years before being elected to Congress in 2012. 

Katherine Clark, caucus vice chair 

Sen. Elizabeth Warren may be Massachusetts’ liberal star, but Rep. Katherine Clark, who represents the state’s Fifth District, has made her own waves.

In 2015, she launched a campaign against online harassment that inspired an anonymous caller to falsely report an active shooter at the congresswoman’s home in Melrose, Mass., bringing armed police officers to her lawn.

In 2016, after the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Florida, she joined civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis of Georgia in leading a sit-in on the House floor, demanding that Republican leaders allow a vote on gun control legislation.

A year later, a C-SPAN video of Congresswoman Clark grilling Education Secretary Betsy DeVos about discrimination against LGBTQ students in private schools went viral.

Now, after besting California Rep. Pete Aguilar for caucus vice chair, Clark is poised to help shape party policy. She’s said her goal is to incorporate the historic diversity of the 116th Congress into the party’s policymaking process.

Clark was first elected to Congress in 2013 to fill the seat then-Rep. Ed Markey vacated when he ran for Senate. Prior to the House, Clark served on her local school board and then in the state senate.  

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/AP
Rep. Katherine Clark (D) of Massachusetts, speaking at a news conference on Jan. 10, 2018, is the new vice chair of the Democratic caucus.

David Cicilline, chair of the DPCC

Last week, Pelosi announced another new position in party leadership: chair of the House Democratic Policy and Communications Committee (DPCC), the caucus’s messaging arm.

The next day, Rhode Island Rep. David Cicilline sent a letter saying he would drop his bid against Luján for assistant Democratic leader and run – unopposed – for the new post instead.

Congressman Cicilline had previously served as one of three DPCC co-chairs (which the new position will be above) alongside Jeffries and Rep. Cheri Bustos (D) of Illinois, helping craft the new party slogan, “For the people.” Though not among Pelosi’s favorites for that role – she’d reportedly wanted someone who could appeal to a working-class constituency – Cicilline ran, won, and has since made a case for working families that Pelosi has praised.

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/AP
Rep. David Cicilline (D) of Rhode Island, speaking during a news conference in the Capitol on July 24, 2018, will be the new chair of the House Democratic Policy and Communications Committee, the party's messaging arm.

But Cicilline’s big passion is gun control. As mayor of Providence, he was a founding member of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which later helped form the nonprofit Everytown for Gun Safety. In 2015, he authored a bill to reinstate a federal ban on assault weapons.  

Cicilline became the fourth openly gay member of Congress when he won the First District seat in 2010. He currently serves as co-chair of the LGBT Equality Caucus and, following the legalization of gay marriage in 2014, introduced legislation to broaden anti-discrimination protections for the LGBT community.

Cheri Bustos, chair of the DCCC

This former reporter from Illinois has been all about one thing: making sure Democrats don’t overlook the Heartland, like they did in 2016.

In a leadership team almost exclusively made up of lawmakers from the coasts, she’s the only one from the Midwest. Her district in the northwest corner of Illinois covers a lot of rural territory, and Trump won it (barely) two years ago. Her grandfather was a hog farmer – and also a state lawmaker.

Like Jeffries, Luján, and Cicilline, she is sometimes mentioned as a possible speaker down the road, but in an interview earlier this year, Rep. Gerry Connolly (D) of Virginia batted down that idea. As a speaker, he explained, she would regularly have to defend left-of-center positions, and “that would be a kiss of death in a Trump district.” 

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/AP
Rep. Cheri Bustos (D) of Illinois speaks with reporters in the Capitol on Oct. 4, 2018. She will be the new head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Still, Representative Bustos’s mantra that the party should field candidates that fit the district – including more conservative ones – was shared by Luján, who led Democrats to victory this year as chair of the DCCC. Now she’s got his job after a three-way race that she handily won.

In 2020, “every single district will be contested and protected,” she said Thursday. She pointed out that Democrats picked up 16 districts in the heartland this time – about the size of the margin they will have to defend in two years.

Bustos is just finishing up her third term, after working in communications in the health-care industry. She is known as a workhorse – recruiting, fundraising, and mentoring new politicians in her “boot camps.” Back home in Illinois, she likes to try out people’s jobs and talk to folks in supermarkets to stay close to her constituents.

Like Jeffries and Cicilline, she used her position as one of the three Pelosi-created co-chairs of the Democrats’ messaging arm as a springboard up the ladder. 


3. Wariness of anti-Semitism rises with prospect of Corbyn government

As a no-deal Brexit looks increasingly possible, Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn sets sights on the prime minister's office. Britain's Jews wonder where they fit in Mr. Corbyn's idea of the British identity.

Henry Nicholls/Reuters
Demonstrators gathered outside a September meeting of the National Executive of Britain's Labour Party in London. The party’s definition of anti-Semitism was being discussed.

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When Parliament votes on Theresa May's Brexit deal on Dec. 11, Britain's future with the European Union may not be the only fate at stake: so too might be that of Ms. May's government. If it falls, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn could well succeed her as prime minister. And that gives pause to many in Britain's 280,000-strong Jewish community. Under his leadership, Labour has tacked left – and in the process uncorked a torrent of anti-Semitism that Mr. Corbyn, a longtime critic of Israel and campaigner for Palestinian rights, is accused of condoning. Jewish lawmakers and activists in Labour who criticize Corbyn or speak out on anti-Semitism have met with hate speech and death threats. Social media posts by Corbyn’s leftist supporters share “globalist” Jewish conspiracies that parallel far-right propaganda across Europe and the United States. Corbyn denies holding anti-Semitic views, arguing that he stands against all types of racism. But critics say British leftists who pride themselves as being anti-racist suffer from myopia, refracted through the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, that prevents them from equating tropes of Jewish world domination with racism. “People feel that [Corbyn] will not be on our side,” says Adam Langleben of the Jewish Labour Movement. “People feel that racists will be emboldened by his election.”


Wariness of anti-Semitism rises with prospect of Corbyn government

As Britain enters the endgame of its exit from the European Union, Prime Minister Theresa May is struggling to sell her Brexit deal to a skeptical Parliament. Should it fail to pass, as many predict, the political fallout could end in a snap election.

For the opposition Labour Party, this would be a political gift. It’s running neck-and-neck with Ms. May’s Conservative Party in national polls, as the Brexit debate drives a wedge through her minority center-right government. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said last week that his lawmakers would vote against the Brexit deal and that if May loses, the “only sensible course of action” is a general election.

But for Britain’s Jews, the prospect of Mr. Corbyn becoming prime minister is vexing, to say the least.

Under his leadership, Labour has tacked left – and in the process uncorked a torrent of anti-Semitism that Corbyn, a longtime critic of Israel and campaigner for Palestinian rights, is accused of condoning. Jewish lawmakers and activists in Labour who criticize Corbyn or speak out on anti-Semitism have met with hate speech and death threats. Social media posts by Corbyn’s leftist supporters share “globalist” Jewish conspiracies that parallel far-right propaganda across Europe and the US, including among some supporters of President Trump.

This surge in left-wing anti-Semitism, and Corbyn’s fitful attempts to contain it, have rattled Britain’s roughly 280,000 Jews. Nearly 4 in 10 polled recently by a Jewish newspaper here said they would consider exile if Corbyn came to power. In July, that newspaper and two others published a joint front-page warning that a Corbyn-led government would pose an “existential threat” to their community.

While that strikes some Jews as hyperbolic, given Britain’s legal protections and political stability, most agree that Labour harbors virulent anti-Semites in its ranks. “The problem is now embedded at the grassroots level of the party,” says Adam Langleben, a former Labour councilor and an executive of its main Jewish affiliate, the Jewish Labour Movement.

Moreover, many believe that Corbyn, as a politician and an ideologue, is not minded to root out anti-Semitic allies and that their influence is now entrenched in the party’s governance.

“We should be extremely worried. This is an institutionally anti-Semitic party [that] is close to power,” says Euan Phillips, a disgruntled Labour activist whose group, Labour Against Antisemitism, monitors and reports alleged hate speech by members.

Creeping extremism

Corbyn denies holding anti-Semitic views, arguing that he stands against all types of racism. But he has also tried to downplay controversial comments by his allies and claimed that he was being unfairly criticized over what happened in “pockets within the Labour Party.”

Some of the tension with British Jews stems from Corbyn’s decades of opposition to Israel and embrace of its foes. As a Labour backbencher, Corbyn hosted members of Hezbollah and Hamas. In 2014, he attended an event in Tunis at which slain Palestinian militants accused by Israel of the 1972 Munich Olympics terror attack that killed 11 Israelis were commemorated, among others. He has since defended his presence as honoring victims of a separate Israeli air attack. [Editor's note: This original version left unclear that the Tunis event commemorated multiple Palestinians, not just those involved in the Munich attacks.]

Matt Dunham/AP
Britain's opposition Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn arrives to attend a memorial service at St Martin-in-the-Fields church in London in April 2018.

Asked about the concerns of British Jews living under a Corbyn government, a Labour spokesperson said the party “is fully committed to the support, defense, and celebration of the Jewish community and its organizations.”

Last month, police in London said they’d begun a criminal inquiry into hate crimes within Labour. One case involves alleged death threats against Luciana Berger, a Labour member of Parliament who is Jewish. She has complained that Labour didn’t inform her or the police of the threats made against her, which has led to her being given police protection.

The Labour spokesperson insisted the party takes seriously any threat against MPs. “We encourage people to report matters to the police if they suspect a crime has been committed and we expect anyone who has committed a crime to be dealt with,” the spokesperson said.

To be sure, extremism within Labour is not the only threat to Jews and other minorities in Britain. In 2016, Labour MP Jo Cox was murdered during the Brexit referendum by a Nazi sympathizer. British Muslims have also been attacked by far-right vigilantes.

Yet the rise of anti-Semitism within Labour is a reminder that such views have long roosted at political extremes; Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia both propagated myths of Jews as capitalist exploiters who were alien to the European nations in which they lived.

Myopia to anti-Semitism?

The turning point for Labour came in 2016 when Corbyn faced a leadership challenge from MPs who saw him as an electoral liability. When the challenge failed, Corbyn and his allies turned on the rebels, who included Jewish MPs and party donors.

Out came the online trolls alleging a “Jewish conspiracy” to unseat Corbyn. And in came the Trotskyists and other hard-left activists who moved to purge moderates from local Labour groups. “That’s when I realized this was an anti-Semitism issue,” says Mr. Langleben, who was a councilor in Barnet, a district in northwest London where around 1 in 5 British Jews live.

British leftists who pride themselves as being anti-racist and anti-imperialist will share online tropes of Jewish world domination, not equating them to racism, says Langleben. This myopia, refracted through the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is hard to combat, not least because pro-Corbyn activists distrust mainstream media that criticize him and his politics.

“Anti-Semitism is at its core a conspiracy theory. So if your political movement is prone to not believing the media and believing conspiratorial things, like the Labour Party is right now, it is itself at risk of buying into anti-Semitic myths,” he says.

In May, Langleben ran for reelection in Barnet, which the Conservatives narrowly held. Labour strategists saw the council as an easy target, given the party’s popularity in London. But many Jewish traditional Labour supporters voted Conservative or stayed home. Langeleben and Labour slid to defeat.

He knows why he lost his seat and why he feels lonely at Labour gatherings. “I have no [Jewish] friends left in the party. Everyone has left,” he says.

‘Don't isolate. Engage.’

One prominent Jewish activist who hasn’t given up on Labour is Danny Rich, a rabbi who heads a liberal Jewish movement. In the same elections, he won a seat on the Barnet council, even as Jewish voters told him they couldn’t vote for Corbyn and questioned his allegiances.

“Leaving Labour is not fighting against anti-Semitism. It’s abandoning the fight against anti-Semitism,” he says in an interview at a synagogue in his ward.

Mr. Rich is a pragmatist – and a target of fierce intra-Jewish criticism – who believes that isolating Corbyn is counterproductive. “It’s not in the interests of the Jewish community not to have relations with the leader of the opposition,” he says.

In September, Rich hosted Corbyn and his wife at a Friday Shabbat dinner at his house, along with several Jewish friends and family members. There was no political agenda or debate. “I wanted people to feel comfortable in a religious Jewish home. That was it,” he says.

Earlier that month, Labour agreed to adopt in full an international definition of anti-Semitism after months of infighting over whether its clauses curbed criticism of Israel. For critics of Corbyn, the controversy encapsulated his failure to draw a line between free speech and hate speech.

Rich says Corbyn may have been right to query the precise definition of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. But his dogmatic arguments make for bad politics and make it harder for Labour to win back Jewish voters. “He’s an idealist,” he says.

That Corbyn is so insistent on such issues reflects his conviction that he’s on the right side of racism, even as he defends anti-Semitic speech in Labour, says David Hirsh, a sociologist at Goldsmiths College, University of London, and author of “Contemporary Left Antisemitism.”

Corbyn “believes himself to be a ‘good man,’ ” says Mr. Hirsh. “He believes himself to be an anti-racist man.”

High stakes for Labour, Jews

The electoral cost of Corbyn’s fumbling of anti-Semitism in Labour may be limited to a handful of seats in London and Manchester with large Jewish populations. For most voters, the big issues at the polls will be Corbyn’s left-wing economic agenda and the shifting politics of Brexit. But in a tight general election, a handful of seats could make all the difference.

Hirsh argues that leftist ideology trumps electoral math. “Jeremy Corbyn is wedded to these politics so strongly that he’s willing to put his whole project at risk,” he says.

Mr. Phillips, the disgruntled activist, says that when Labour does investigate alleged anti-Semitism, the offenders are rarely punished for their views. His network of activists have reported over 1,200 individuals in the last two years, mostly for posts on social media.

In March, Christine Shawcroft, the party’s head of discipline, resigned over her defense of Alan Bull, a Labour activist who was seeking a council seat in Peterborough. Mr. Bull had been suspended for posting a link on Facebook to an article denying the Holocaust. Ms. Shawcroft, a close Corbyn ally, wanted him reinstated so he could run for office.

Phillips, who is not Jewish, says Corbyn’s allies invoke free speech and accuse him of silencing debate over Israel. But that defense no longer rings true to him. “There’s a point at which a desire to be open-minded and to be inviting debate moves into moral cowardice and moral bankruptcy,” he says.

While a Corbyn-led government would certainly take a tough line on Israel, how its rule would affect British Jews is unclear. Even his critics concede that government policy is unlikely to change overnight. What they fear is a gradual mainstreaming of anti-Semitic politics in Britain at a time of populist unrest across Western democracies.

“People feel that [Corbyn] will not be on our side. He will not have our back. People feel that racists will be emboldened by his election,” says Langleben.

Analysts draw comparisons between the mushrooming of hate speech on Labour’s left flank with the racist expressions and violent acts, including anti-Semitic attacks, that have surged in the US since Mr. Trump took power.

“I’m not afraid of Jeremy Corbyn passing laws against Jews or anything like that,” says Hirsh. “The fear is of political people on the left and the right for whom anti-Semitic politics becomes more and more normal.”


4. ‘No one wants to die in the sea’: Gambians’ quest for a safer way out

On Monday we explored an EU experiment to help deter Gambians from seeking a dangerous “back way” to Europe. In this next story, we meet Gambians searching for a legal path, hoping they can cross the world “by love or luck or sheer ambition,” Ryan Lenora Brown writes. 


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Gambia is a tiny, banana-shaped sliver of a country, home to just 2 million people. Yet it consistently ranks in the top 10 origin countries for migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea into Europe. Leaving home, people say, is the way to build a better life. But how? Here, there are few legal routes to the West. But that doesn’t prevent people from hoping they will be the exception: the one for whom a marriage visa, or a scholarship, will finally come through. “I feel worried I won’t win, that it’s impossible,” says Fatoumata Camara, waiting to have her photo taken for a US green card lottery. The program grants permanent US residency to approximately 50,000 randomly selected entrants from around the world each year. Just down the road, icily air-conditioned supermarkets sell bits of America – Pop-Tarts and marshmallow creme and organic dog food. Flights roar overhead, carrying planeloads of tourists to and from Brussels and Manchester and Barcelona. In some ways, the West seems so close. But for now, Ms. Camara knows, there is a glass wall between her and the places she wants to be.


‘No one wants to die in the sea’: Gambians’ quest for a safer way out

Every day, as Omar Barrow swerved his taxi across the potholed roads of Gambia’s capital city, peeling airline billboards sold him stories of faraway places.

Dream big in New York City, promised one, a faded image of the Empire State Building rising behind the text. London is calling … from just $824, announced another.

$824. It was, for Mr. Barrow, a price as fantastical as the destination, something far beyond the reach of a man making $10 or $20 a day shuttling tourists between the kitschy beach hotels and English pubs that hug the seafront here.

But the cost wasn’t his biggest obstacle. To get on that plane, he also needed a visa. And to get a visa, he needed something – well, someone – else.

“If I can find a white lady, it will change my life,” Barrow, a round-faced man in his thirties, often told his friends. “If I can find a white lady, I can get a better future.”

Over the past several years, Gambia – a tiny banana-shaped sliver of a country running through the center of Senegal in West Africa – has earned a troubling reputation. Despite its small stature and population (2 million), the country consistently ranks in the top 10 origin countries for migrants attempting the clandestine crossing of the Mediterranean Sea into Europe.

Leaving Gambia for the West, indeed, has become a kind of Gambian dream – the country’s most trusted belief for how you can build a better life. A tiny country with little in the way of industry or natural resources, money sent home from abroad plays an outsize role in Gambia’s economy. Remittances account for more than 20 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, one of the highest percentages in the world.

Every year, thousands set out for Europe along what’s euphemistically called “the back way,” a clandestine crossing of desert and sea. But others, like Barrow, hope to find different, less dangerous, ways out.

For most Gambians, there are few legal routes to the West. But still, it is a country alive with people hoping they will be the exception, the one who can cross the world by love or luck or sheer ambition.

For Barrow, he decided it would be love. He often saw couples – him Gambian, her European – walking barefoot in the sand at sunset, their hands clasped, or bent toward each other at the rickety beach bars in Serrekunda, a Banjul suburb. It was a trend that had earned Gambia a dubious reputation for sex tourism.

But the way Barrow saw it, things were more complicated than that. Friends showed him selfies that the women they’d met sent back from their home countries in Europe. “She’s coming back for me,” they’d tell him. “She promised,” they’d say.

And occasionally, it was true.

When he looked at these friends, he saw how interlaced love and need were. His friends loved these women, he thought, but it was clear they also needed them. For a visa to get to Europe, maybe, or for the money they sent back to Gambia when they went home. Still, the way Barrow saw it, need didn’t cancel out love.

“When a woman wants a husband and a man wants a wife, that is what love is,” he reasoned as he made small talk with the tourists piling in and out of his car. “I wouldn’t follow someone I do not like.”

1 in 150,000

Across town, in a tiny shopfront crammed between a store selling used bikes from America and another selling used refrigerators from Germany, a hand-painted sign flapped in the wind, promising its own way out.

“WORK & LIVE IN USA,” it read. “PLAY AND WIN.”

Inside, the Nigerian proprietor, Collins Eko, pointed proudly to a faded piece of paper tacked to his wall. “Dear Mr. Onyema,” it began. “You have been randomly selected for further processing in the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program for the fiscal year 2014.”

That Mr. Onyema had won the so-called green card lottery, which grants permanent US residency to approximately 50,000 randomly selected entrants from around the world each year. Since then, Mr. Eko bragged, his little internet cafe had had two more winners.

“I’m telling you, no one wants to die in the sea,” he said to prospective customers, who could pay $3 for his help filling out the application. “This way is better.”

Better maybe, but a long shot. Less 1 percent of the 15 million or so people who enter the green card lottery each year are selected to apply for permanent residency. After interviews and health checks and background screenings, fewer than half of those eventually end up in the United States.

“I feel worried I won’t win, that it’s impossible,” says Fatoumata Camara, who on a recent morning sat fidgeting in the foyer of a shop called Photo Express in Serrekunda, waiting to have her photo taken for her lottery application.

Just down the road, icily air-conditioned supermarkets sold her countrymen and women bits of America – Pop-Tarts and marshmallow creme and organic dog food. Every day, meanwhile, flights roared overhead, carrying planeloads of European tourists to and from Brussels and Manchester and Barcelona. In some ways, the West seemed so close, so reachable.

But Ms. Camara knew there was a glass wall between her and the places she wanted to be. She could see them – in the shops and on TV and in the faces of the chattering tourists stumbling out of the pubs each night – but she could not reach them. Twice, she had applied for student visas to Britain. Twice, she was rejected.

And so now, here she was, dreaming of the life she might have in the United States.

“I’ll have a job sitting in an office, at a computer,” she said. “I think life will be easier there.”

Maybe after maybe

On the campus of the University of The Gambia, Sellou Jallow was writing his own ticket out.

“Colleges in America,” he typed into a Google search bar.

A list of sites emerged, thousands of pages long.

“Colleges in America that do not require the SATs,” he tried again. This time, fewer results.

“Colleges in America that do not require the SATs and have scholarships,” he typed finally.

Now the list was manageable. He began to write down the names.

College in America had once been an outsized ambition for a boy from his village, a few hours inland, or “upriver” from the capital, as Gambians called it – or anyhow it would have been before last year. But now he had a line on his résumé that might make a difference. In 2017, he’d represented Gambia at the First Global Challenge, an international high school robotics competition, in Washington, D.C.

“That competition made me see my potential, that I really have skills I didn’t know I had,” he says of his week in Washington, where Gambia’s team finished 106th out of 163 teams competing. And the trip to America cracked open a new possibility in his mind.

Maybe, he could come back here. Maybe, he could study here. Maybe he could start a life here. Maybe.

“Inshallah,” he says. God willing.

“By the grace of God,” says Joseph Tucker, a Sierra Leonean in Gambia. It’s been a few weeks now since he submitted his own application for the green card lottery at Eko’s shop. “If it is His will.”

Last May, Mr. Tucker actually won the lottery. But as the fine print on his acceptance letter stated, nothing was guaranteed. Winners of the lottery are randomly ranked, and you can only apply for your green card when your number is called by the State Department. Last year, so many Africans with winning numbers applied for residency that the US government simply never got to Tucker’s.

“I was going to elevate my life,” says Tucker, an engineer who left his country during the Ebola outbreak of 2015. “That was a very big chance for me.”

But it slipped through his fingers.

And now there was nothing to do except try again.

Jacob Turcotte/Staff


Drivers of change

5. He won asylum for himself. Now, he helps new refugees get settled.

Our next story focuses on the other end of the refugee pipeline, where one political asylee from Uganda is helping to pave the way to opportunity for others.


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A political asylee who was kidnapped and tortured in Uganda, George – who spoke on condition his real name not be used – is one of hundreds of caseworkers across the country helping newly arrived refugees navigate US bureaucracy. Over the past two years, the federal government has cut refugee resettlement by nearly 75 percent – and with it, the accompanying per capita funding allocated to agencies. George helps the newcomers secure everything from housing to cookware on a shoestring budget, and get enrolled in Social Security and public school. What he lacks in time or money, George makes up for in understanding, patience, and generosity, often paying for refugees’ rent or groceries out of his own pocket – even as he works two jobs and attends law school full time. Arriving in the United States with only a backpack several years ago, he planned to attend a conference, seek medical treatment, and then go home. But concerns for his safety persuaded him to stay. Now he sets an example for others that it is possible to come here and rebuild a life. “[T]his was the work I wanted, to help people,” he says.


He won asylum for himself. Now, he helps new refugees get settled.

George doesn’t drive like a man who fled for his life.

He pilots his modest sedan at 30 m.p.h. in a 40 m.p.h. zone, passing stone walls, baseball fields, and a shuttered consignment shop surrounded by weeds en route to Lowell, Mass. There, a newly arrived family of Guatemalan refugees awaits his help.

His phone rings. It is always ringing.

“Hallo?” he says, softly.

It’s about a Congolese family that has had a bumpy first week.

They need food stamps, the caller says. Are you coming today?

“Yes, I’m coming,” George assures him. “I’ll be coming anytime.”

A Ugandan political asylee who has made a new life for himself in the US, George is now on the front lines of a daily battle to find newly arrived refugees housing, furniture, and cookware on a shoestring budget. He is one of hundreds of caseworkers across the country helping them navigate US bureaucracy at a time when many resettlement agencies have had to scale back their operations. Over the past two years, the federal government has cut refugee resettlement by nearly 75 percent – and with it, the accompanying per capita funding allocated to agencies.

“So now I am doing everything by myself, which makes everything hard,” says George, who spoke on condition that his real name not be used, fearful for his safety after being kidnapped and tortured in Uganda. He often falls behind on crucial paperwork while spending hours ferrying refugees from one bureaucrat to the next and fielding their calls in the middle of the night when crises arise.

But what he lacks in time or money, George makes up for in understanding, patience, and generosity. And perhaps more than anything, he sets an inspiring example for others that it is possible to come here and rebuild a life.

Bullets and a kidnapping 

Back in Uganda, George ran for parliament as part of the opposition in 2011, but government officials pressured him to step down. When he refused, gunmen pursued him in a car chase and sprayed him with bullets. He narrowly escaped.

Then he was kidnapped.

“The election was on Friday, we were taken on Thursday,” he says. He was tortured along with three other members of his campaign, for several days. “They threw us in a forest area, and the police picked us [up] like picking dead bodies.”

A year later, he came to the US with only a backpack, intending to attend a conference in the Boston area, seek medical treatment, and then go home.

“After coming here, things changed,” he says. The newspapers back home had reported on the conference, organized by his ethnic minority group to discuss how they could “get a share of the cake” in Uganda. “Within two weeks, I decided not to go back.”

But he didn’t know whom to trust, so he cut all ties with Ugandans and hailed a taxi from Boston’s South Station in hopes of finding a cheap hotel, but they were all full.

The Algerian driver called his Moroccan friend. I have someone here, he is our brother from Africa, he said. Can you help him?

He said yes.

George stayed with the Moroccan friend for a month, got a laptop and a lawyer, and applied for asylum. If I need anything, I’ll call you, he recalls his lawyer telling him in January 2013. He waited months for word that his application had been approved, a crucial prerequisite to getting permission to work.

In August, he found out she still hadn’t filed his application.

“So that was the first challenge,” says George.

Finally, by January 2014, he landed his first job – at Dunkin’ Donuts. He liked the butter pecan iced coffee and the “old-fashioned” donut. But he soon moved on to refueling airplanes at Logan International Airport. Then he got a commercial driving license to drive tractor-trailer trucks, but ended up working as a valet.

Then he heard about a job he was especially suited for: refugee caseworker with the Refugee and Immigrant Assistance Center (RIAC) in Boston. The only problem was the $2 per hour pay cut.

“But this was the work I wanted, to help people,” says George, who started with RIAC in early 2016. After a year, he got a raise that more than made up the difference. But he still works a second job as a concierge at a fancy hotel in Boston, which gives him health care benefits. Meanwhile, he’s going to law school full-time in the evenings.

As hard as he’s working to earn a living though, he knows it’s even harder for newly arrived refugees.  

Money from his own pocket  

When George pulls up in front of the Guatemalan family’s home in Lowell, the parents cram into the backseat with their sons – one a high school senior and the other a boy growing so fast that none of his clothes fit since arriving a couple of weeks ago.

The family got $4,500 in federal “welcome money,” which is supposed to last them for three months. Even with their cheap rental – $1,200 a month – by the time they paid first month’s rent, last month’s rent, and a security deposit, there was less than $1,000 left – and they ate into that with a few miscellaneous expenses.

Before they got any additional funds or had time to secure a job, the landlord was already asking about the second month’s rent. They didn’t have enough to cover it.

“I am managing their account, I know there was no money,” says George, who paid about $550 out of his own pocket to cover the difference. He knows he will likely not get it back. “I had to do whatever it takes,” he says. In Massachusetts, refugees can also qualify for food stamps and cash assistance, depending on their circumstances. But even then, they can’t always cover their grocery bills. “Sometimes you take them shopping and they pick out more than they can pay for,” he adds. “So you pay the rest.”

How many times has he done that?

“Many times,” he says. “I’m trying to fight for them.”

As George drives the Guatemalan family downtown to get the kids enrolled in school, the father asks how long it should take to get their Social Security cards. A month? Three weeks?

“Everything is taking a long time,” says George.

George manages to find the one empty parking spot on the block and takes the family past the old brick storefronts into Lowell’s Family Resource Center to enroll their children in an American future. Amid signs like “Hate has no home here” and “The Road to Success Begins with Good Attendance,” the older boy zeroes in on a Lowell High School T-shirt for sale.

“Looks like a great shirt!” he says in flawless American English, his eyes lighting up.

George makes sure they have all the necessary paperwork – birth certificates, immunizations, proof of address – and shakes hands with all four of them.

“Call me if you need anything,” he says, and he heads off to Worcester, nearly an hour away, to help the Congolese family. 

Patience required

The Congolese are living on Diamond St., which long ago lost any resemblance to its name. After a brief visit with the family, George loads up his car with three young Congolese refugees and drives over to the local Social Security Administration. He pops open the trunk and rifles through a car jack, jumper cables, and a cascading pile of folders to find the documents he needs. When they walk to the entrance, they find a line out the door. After an hour and a half of waiting among screaming babies and disgruntled adults, it’s finally their turn.

“All of you?” asks the lady behind the glass. “Oh no, no, no, I’m not taking all these,” she declares, rubbing her forehead.

George explains that these are the refugees they didn’t get to yesterday when he ran out of time getting their relatives processed, and sits down in front of the glass window. Gentle but persistent.

Finally, the lady behind the glass stamps a big bureaucratic stamp, and passes the completed Social Security card applications back through the window. 

Late-night lunch, then homework

By the time he heads home, it’s early evening and George still hasn’t eaten lunch. He needs to do his law school homework, but he’ll spend the night fielding phone calls from the Congolese family, which is trying to navigate local taxis and the hospital system with a sick baby and little English. After a day of paperwork tomorrow, he has class at night for several hours, then he’ll work an overnight shift as concierge.

He’ll try not to think too much about the teetering stacks of folders on top of his filing cabinet, or the fact that he used to split this work with colleagues.  He’ll wish RIAC still had the van that someone donated to them, so he didn’t have to make so many trips ferrying refugees around, but the van broke down and there was no money to fix it.

Despite such challenges, he’s focused on the opportunities he has here in America – not the sacrifices he is making.

He grew up in a poor family, missing years of school at a time due to war, and went back to get a college degree after getting married. His wife and children are still in Uganda. But pursuing a law degree now is incredibly empowering, especially for someone who grew up under a dictator. With a law degree, he says, “You can challenge anyone.”

Indeed, the rule of law in America provides a refuge, a protecting principle that supersedes even the most powerful elected officials. And thus, despite all the challenges for refugees and asylum seekers in the US right now, for many it’s still better than back home, he says.

“Our government is fearless,” he says. They can do anything … the leader bends the system,” he says. “But here there are some things you cannot bend.”


The Monitor's View

An ideal strategy toward China’s aggression

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How should the United States respond to a more assertive China? Answers can be found in a new report from some two dozen China specialists who had long advocated for constructive engagement with Beijing. Alarmed at the “sharp power” wielded by Communist Party leader Xi Jinping since 2012, these scholars now advocate “constructive vigilance” of China – but not necessarily by pursuing narrow self-interests or relying on demonization. The report, organized by the Hoover Institution and the Asia Society, insists the US and its allies stick to universal principles. It suggests three principles as the best defense to covert or aggressive Chinese behavior: transparency, integrity, and reciprocity. Transparency is the best protection against China’s attempted manipulation. Maintaining the integrity of US institutions, such as schools not compromising in exchanges with Chinese counterparts, is essential. And with Beijing denying foreign access to China in so many spheres, the US must insist on a level playing field, or reciprocity. The best vigilance toward China right now may be the US sticking to its ideals.


An ideal strategy toward China’s aggression

One of the critical choices that will shape the 21st century is how the United States responds to a more assertive China. Bilateral trade between the two giants now surpasses that between any other pair of countries. More than 430,000 Chinese now study in the US. And their two militaries often face off in Asian hot spots.

Should the US, for example, respond harshly to China’s technology theft? Should it ban the country’s Confucius Institutes and China-tied student groups on US campuses if they impinge on academic freedom? Should it restrict Chinese investments in US firms if they disable America’s commercial and military advantages?

Sensible answers to such questions can be found in a new report from some two dozen China specialists in the US who had long advocated for constructive engagement with Beijing. They admit a “mood shift” in attitudes toward China among Americans.

Alarmed at the “sharp power” wielded by Communist Party leader Xi Jinping since 2012, these scholars now advocate “constructive vigilance” of China – but not necessarily by pursuing narrow self-interests or relying on fearful demonization of the Chinese.

The report, organized by the Hoover Institution and the Asia Society, insists the US and its allies stick to universal principles, in part because China often rejects them. “There is ... a growing body of evidence that the Chinese Communist Party views the American ideals of freedom of speech, press, assembly, religion, and association as direct challenges to its defense of its own form of one-party rule,” the report states.

The scholars suggest three principles as the best defense to covert or aggressive Chinese behavior: transparency, integrity, and reciprocity.

Transparency is the best protection against China’s attempted manipulation of media, think tanks, college faculty, and government officials. Maintaining the integrity of US institutions, such as schools not compromising in exchanges with Chinese counterparts, is essential.

And with Beijing denying foreign access to China in so many spheres from business to scholarship, the US must insist on a level playing field, or reciprocity. China must not force foreign firms to hand over their technological secrets, for example, and should improve its respect for protection of intellectual property. Treating each other equally will help ensure the US-China relationship is “more stable and thus durable,” the report states.

Big powers often need buffers when they pursue their particular interests. The best buffers are not always defensive weapons, trade tariffs, bans on people exchanges, or regulatory walls. The best vigilance toward China right now may be the US sticking to its ideals.


A Christian Science Perspective

About this feature

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

A timeless sense of the Advent

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As we head into December, today’s contributor shares how an advent calendar prompted him to gain a clearer sense of the ever-present Christ, and how that same understanding healed a friend of cancer.


A timeless sense of the Advent

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During a Christmas visit to Germany some time ago, I enjoyed being part of my hosts’ holiday activities. This included opening the doors of an Advent calendar, with a little window for each of the first 25 days of December.

The calendars are fun – everyone received a little gift when a new window was opened – but their deeper purpose is to build up anticipation for Christmas Day and the celebration of Jesus’ birth.

Christmas is about not just celebrating Jesus’ historical coming, but also awakening more to the Christ-spirit that animated Jesus’ life, to the hope and promise that the Christ presence is always with us. What a wonderfully expanded sense this gives to our Christmas celebrations, bringing a more timeless sense of the holiday!

Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer of Christian Science, made note of this kind of special affection for Christmas, writing, “… Christ’s appearing in a fuller sense is so precious, and fraught with divine benedictions for mankind” (“Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896,” p. 320).

This “fuller sense” with its “divine benedictions for mankind” was a promise that Jesus made to his followers. He told them: “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever …. I will not leave you comfortless: … the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you” (John 14:16, 18, 26).

This is sometimes taken to mean that Jesus will return in the flesh at a future time to establish a new earthly kingdom. To me it indicates something that is much nearer and more immediate: that this kingdom is here, now, and is revealed as each of us discovers the truth that we are actually spiritual, the children of God. This consciousness of our spirituality is the ongoing unfolding of the Christ message, which is ever present to help humanity.

One meaning of the word “comforter” is advocate or intercessor on behalf of those in need. The Christ – the powerful healing message of God’s love – coming to argue your case for you, right when you most need it, is a helpful sense of the ongoing Comforter.

The truth of this ever-appearing of the Christ in human consciousness can have wonderful healing results, as a friend of mine proved. One summer she was diagnosed with breast cancer by several doctors. Surgery had been scheduled. But before it took place, my friend took an approach to addressing health issues that she was used to, looking to better understand her spiritual nature in relation to God. She was healed when a new insight came to her. She realized that even in the heat of summer, she was residing in the full blessings of a Christmas morning – the blessings of the Christ presence.

The ideas in this passage from Miscellaneous Writings inspired her prayers for healing: “The star that looked lovingly down on the manger of our Lord, lends its resplendent light to this hour: the light of Truth, to cheer, guide, and bless man as he reaches forth for the infant idea of divine perfection dawning upon human imperfection, – that calms man’s fears, bears his burdens, beckons him on to Truth and Love and the sweet immunity these bring from sin, sickness, and death” (p. 320).

The starry brightness of this idea reminded my friend of her true spirituality. It calmed and comforted her, and when she went for her pre-surgery examination, she was found free of any sign of a problem. And she continues to be free of this illness.

Mary Baker Eddy wrote in “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures”: “The advent of Jesus of Nazareth marked the first century of the Christian era, but the Christ is without beginning of years or end of days. Throughout all generations both before and after the Christian era, the Christ, as the spiritual idea, – the reflection of God, – has come with some measure of power and grace to all prepared to receive Christ, Truth” (p. 333).

This spiritual preparation to receive Christ, Truth, in the run-up to Christmas brings new insights even as it enlarges and inspires our observance of Christmas. But, as my friend proved, the healing message of Christmas – that Christ is ever present – is with us every day.

Adapted from a Christian Science Sentinel article published Dec. 19, 2005.



At stake in Yemen

Mohamed al-Sayaghi/Reuters
Children displaced from the Red Sea port city of Al Hudaydah were served a meal at a shelter in Sanaa, Yemen, earlier this month. The US Senate on Wednesday voted overwhelmingly – and in bipartisan fashion – to advance a resolution to end American involvement in the Saudi-led war in Yemen. That move was seen as a rebuke to President Trump’s Saudi policy. Next week, United Nations-led peace talks on Yemen begin in Sweden.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris and Jacob Turcotte. )

In Our Next Issue

( November 30th, 2018 )

Noelle Swan
Science Editor

Thanks for joining us today. Come back tomorrow when we'll have new insight into a 30,000-year-old tale of human resilience and adaptation from the Tibetan Plateau.

Monitor Daily Podcast

November 29, 2018
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